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Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film 

Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film 



Barry Keith Grant 



An imprint of Thomson Gale, a part of Tfic Thomson Corporation 




Detroit • New York • San Francisco • New Haven, Conn. • Waterville, Maine • London 


The term "critic" is often apphed very loosely, signifying 
little more than "a person who writes about the arts." It 
can be defined more precisely by distinguishing it from 
related terms with which it is often fttsed (and confijsed) : 
reviewer, scholar, theorist. The distinction can never be 
complete, as the critic exists in overlapping relationships 
with all three, but it is nonetheless important that it be 


Reviewers are journalists writing columns on the latest 
releases in daily or weekly papers. They criticize films, 
and often call themselves critics, but for the most part the 
criticism they practice is severely limited in its aims and 
ambitions. They write their reviews to a deadline after (in 
most cases) only one viewing, and their job is primarily 
to entertain (their livelihood depends on it), which deter- 
mines the quality and style of their writing. Some (a 
minority) have a genuine interest in the quality of the 
films they review; most are concerned with recommend- 
ing them (or not) to a readership assumed to be primarily 
interested in being entertained. In other words, reviewers 
are an integral (and necessarily uncritical) part of our 
"fast-food culture" — a culture of the instantly disposable, 
in which movies are swallowed like hamburgers, forgot- 
ten by the next day; a culture that depends for its very 
continuance on discouraging serious thought; a culture of 
the newest, the latest, in which we have to be "with it," 
and in which "trendy" has actually become a positive 
descriptive adjective. Many reviewers like to present 
themselves as superior to all this (if you write for a 
newspaper you should be an "educated" person), while 
carefully titillating us: how disgusting are the gross-out 

moments, how spectacular the battles, chases, and explo- 
sions, how sexy the comedy. There have been (and still 
are) responsible and intelligent reviewer-critics, such as 
James Agee, Manny Father, Robert Warshow, Jonathan 
Rosenbaum, and J. Hoberman, but they are rare. 

To be fair, a major liability is the requirement of 
speed: how do you write seriously about a film you have 
seen only once, with half a dozen more to review and a 
two- or three-day deadline to meet? One may wonder, 
innocently, how these reviewers even recall the plot or the 
cast in such detail, but the answer to that is simple: the 
distributors supply handouts for press screenings, con- 
taining full plot synopses and a full cast list. In theory, it 
should be possible to write about a film without even 
having seen it, and one wonders how many reviewers 
avail themselves of such an option, given the number of 
tedious, stupid movies they are obliged to write some- 
thing about every week. What one might call today's 
standard product (the junk food of cinema) can be of 
only negative interest to the critic, who is concerned with 
questions of value. The scholar, who must catalogue 
everything, takes a different sort of interest in such fare, 
and the theorist will theorize from it about the state of 
cinema and the state of our culture. Both will be useful to 
the critic, who may in various ways depend on them. 

Reviewers are tied to the present. When, occasion- 
ally, they are permitted to step outside their socially 
prescribed role and write a column on films they know 
intimately, they become critics, though not necessarily 
good ones, bad habits being hard to break. (Pauline Kael 
is a case in point, with her hit-or-miss insights.) This is 
not of course to imply that critics are tied exclusively to 
the distant past; indeed, it is essential that they retain a 



b. 1952, d. 1994 

Although his period of creativity (he was the most creative 
of critics) covered only fifteen years, Andrew Britton was a 
critic in the fullest sense. He had the kind of intellect that 
can encompass and assimilate the most diverse sources, 
sifting, making connections, drawing on whatever he 
needed and transforming it into his own. Perennial 
reference points were Marxism (but especially Trotsky), 
Freud, and F. R. Leavis, seemingly incompatible but 
always held in balance. A critic interested in value and in 
standards of achievement will achieve greatness only if he 
commands a perspective ranging intellectually and 
culturally far beyond his actual field of work. Britton's 
perspective encompassed (beyond film) literature and 
music, of which he had an impressively wide range of 
intimate knowledge, as well as cultural and political 

His work was firmly and pervasively grounded in 
sociopolitical thinking, including radical feminism, racial 
issues, and the gay rights movement. But his critical 
judgments were never merely political; the politics were 
integrated with an intelligent aesthetic awareness, never 
confusing political statement with the focused concrete 
realization essential to any authentic work of art. His 
intellectual grasp enabled him to assimilate with ease all 
the phases and vicissitudes of critical theory. He took the 
onset of semiotics in stride, assimilating it without the 
least difficulty, immediately perceiving its loopholes and 
points of weakness, using what he needed and attacking 
the rest mercilessly, as in his essay on "The Ideology of 

His central commitment, within a very wide range of 
sympathies that encompassed film history and world 
cinema, was to the achievements of classical Hollywood. 
His meticulously detailed readings of films, such as 

Mandingo, Now, Voyager, and Meet Me in St. Louis, 
informed by sexual and racial politics, psychoanalytic 
theory, and the vast treasury of literature at his command, 
deserve classical status as critical models. His book-length 
study of Katharine Hepburn deserves far wider recognition 
and circulation than it has received so far: it is not only the 
most intelligent study of a star's complex persona and 
career, it also covers all the major issues of studio 
production, genre, the star system, cinematic conventions, 
thematic patterns, and the interaction of all of these 

His work has not been popular within academia 
because it attacked, often with devastating effect, many of 
the positions academia has so recklessly and uncritically 
embraced: first semiotics, and subsequently the account of 
classical Hollywood as conceived by the critic David 
Bordwell. These attacks have never been answered but 
rather merely ignored, the implication being that they are 
unanswerable. Today, when many academics are 
beginning to challenge the supremacy of theory over 
critical discourse, Britton's work should come into its own. 
His death from AIDS in 1994 was a major loss to film 


Britton, Andrew. "Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite 
Entertainment." Movie, nos. 31/32 (Winter 1986): 1-42. 

. Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist. London; Studio 

Vista, 1995. 

. "Meet Me in St. Louis: Smith, or the Ambiguities." 

CineAction, no. 35 (1994): 29-40. 

. "A New Servitude; Bette Davis, Now, Voyager, and 

the Radicalism of the Women's Film." CineAction, nos. 
26/27 (1992): 32-59. 

Robin Wood 

close contact with what is happening in cinema today, at 
every level of achievement. But one needs to "live " with a 
film for some time, and with repeated viewings, in order 
to write responsibly about it — if, that is, it is a film of real 
importance and lasting value. 

The difference between critic and reviewer is, then, 
relatively clear-cut and primarily a matter of quality, 
seriousness, and commitment. The distinction between 

critic and scholar or critic and theorist is more compli- 
cated. Indeed, the critic may be said to be parasitic on 
both, needing the scholar's scholarship and the theorist's 
theories as frequent and indispensable reference points. 
(It is also true that the scholar and theorist are prone to 
dabble in criticism, sometimes with disastrous results.) 
But the critic has not the time to be a scholar, beyond 
a certain point: the massive research (often into 




unrewarding and undistinguished material) necessary to 
scholarship would soon become a distraction from the 
intensive examination of the works the critic finds of 
particular significance. And woe to the critic who 
becomes too much a theorist: he or she will very soon 
be in danger of neglecting the specificity and particularity 
of detail in individual films to make them fit the theory, 
misled by its partial or tangential relevance. Critics 
should be familiar with the available theories, should be 
able to refer to any that have not been disproved (for 
theories notoriously come and go) whenever such theo- 
ries are relevant to their work, but should never allow 
themselves to become committed to any one. A critic 
would do well always to keep in mind Jean Renoir's 
remarks on theories: 

You know, I can't believe in the general ideas, 
really I can't believe in them at all. I try too hard 
to respect human personality not to feel that, at 
bottom, there must be a grain of truth in every 
idea. I can even believe that all the ideas are true 
in themselves, and that it's the application of 
them which gives them value or not in particular 
circumstances . . . No, I don't believe there are 
such things as absolute truths, but I do believe 
in absolute human qualities — generosity, for 
instance, which is one of the basic ones. 
(Quoted in Sarris, Interviews with Film 
Directors, p. 424) 


One cannot discuss criticism, its fimction within society, 
its essential aims and nature, without reference to the 
work of F. R. Leavis (1895-1978), perhaps the most 
important critic in the English language in any medium 
since the mid-twentieth century. Although his work today 
is extremely unpopular (insofar as it is even read), and 
despite the fact that he showed no interest in the cinema 
whatever, anyone who aspires to be a critic of any of the 
arts should be familiar with his work, which entails also 
being familiar with the major figures of English literature. 

Leavis belonged to a somewhat different world from 
ours, which the "standards" he continued to the end to 
maintain would certainly reject. Leavis grew up in 
Victorian and Edwardian England and was fully formed 
as a critic and lecturer by the 1930s. He would have 
responded with horror to the "sexual revolution," though 
he was able to celebrate, somewhat obsessively, 
D. H. Lawrence, whose novels were once so shocking as 
to be banned (and who today is beginning to appear 
quaintly old-fashioned). 

Leavis was repeatedly rebuked for what was in fact 
his greatest strength: his consistent refusal to define a 
clear theoretical basis for his work. What he meant by 
"critical standards" could not, by their very nature, be 

tied to some specific theory of literature or art. The critic 
must above all be open to new experiences and new 
perceptions, and critical standards were not and could 
not be some cut-and-dried set of rules that one applied to 
all manifestations of genius. The critic must be free and 
flexible, the standards arising naturally out of constant 
comparison, setting this work beside that. If an ultimate 
value exists, to which appeal can be made, it is also 
indefinable beyond a certain point: "life," the quality of 
life, intelligence about life, about human society, human 
intercourse. A value judgment cannot, by its very nature, 
be proved scientifically. Hence Leavis's famous definition 
of the ideal critical debate, an ongoing process with no 
final answer: "This is so, isn't it?" "Yes, but . . ." It is this 
very strength of Leavis's discourse that has resulted, 
today, in his neglect, even within academia. Everything 
now must be supported by a firm theoretical basis, even 
though that basis (largely a matter of fashion) changes 
every few years. Criticism, as Leavis understood it (in 
T. S. Eliot's famous definition, "the common pursuit of 
true judgment"), is rarely practiced in universities today. 
Instead, it has been replaced by the apparent security of 
"theory," the latest theory applied across the board, 
supplying one with a means of pigeonholing each new 
work one encounters. 

It is not possible, today, to be a faithful "Leavisian" 
critic (certainly not of film, the demands of which are in 
many ways quite different from those of literature). 
Crucial to Leavis's work was his vision of the university 
as a "creative center of civilization." The modern uni- 
versity has been allowed to degenerate, under the auspices 
of "advanced" capitalism, into a career training institu- 
tion. There is no "creative center of civilization" any- 
more. Only small, struggling, dispersed groups, each with 
its own agenda, attempt to battle the seemingly irrever- 
sible degeneration of Western culture. From the perspec- 
tive of our position amid this decline, and with film 
in mind, Leavis's principles reveal three important weak- 
nesses or gaps: 

1. The wholesale rejection of popular culture. Leavis 
held, quite correctly, that popular culture was thoroughly 
contaminated by capitalism, its productions primarily 
concerned with making money, and then more money. 
However, film criticism and theory have been firmly 
rooted in classical Hollywood, which today one can 
perceive as a period of extraordinary richness but which 
to Leavis was a total blank. He was able to appreciate 
the popular culture of the past, in periods when major 
artists worked in complete harmony with their public 
(the Elizabethan drama centered on Shakespeare, the 
Victorian novel on Dickens) but was quite unable to 
see that the pre- 1960s Hollywood cinema represented, 
however compromised, a communal art, comparable in 
many ways to Renaissance Italy, the Elizabethan drama. 




the Vienna of Mozart and Haydn. It was a period in 
which artists worked together, influencing each other, 
borrowing fi-om each other, evolving a whole rich com- 
plex of conventions and genres, with no sense whatever of 
alienation from the general public: the kind of art (the 
richest kind) that today barely exists. Vestiges of it can 
perhaps be found in rock music, compromised by its 
relatively limited range of expression and human emo- 
tion, the restriction of its pleasures to the "youth" audi- 
ence, and its tendency to expendability. 

Hollywood cinema was also compromised from the 
outset by the simple fact that the production of a film 
requires vastly more money than the writing of a novel or 
play, the composing of a symphony, or the painting of a 
picture. Yet — as with Shakespeare, Haydn, or Leonardo 
da Vinci — filmmakers like Howard Hawks (1896-1977), 
John Ford (1894-1973), Leo McCarey (1898-1969), 
and Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) were able to remain 
in touch with their audiences, to "give them what they 
wanted," without seriously compromising themselves. 
They could make the films they wanted to make, and 
enjoyed making, while retaining their popular following. 
Today, intelligent critical interest in films that goes 
beyond the "diagnostic" has had to shift to "art-house" 
cinema or move outside Western cinema altogether, to 
Taiwan, Hong Kong, Iran, Africa, and Thailand. 

2. Political engagement. Although he acknowledged 
the urgent need for drastic social change, Leavis never 
analyzed literature from an explicitly political viewpoint. 
In his earlier days he showed an interest in Marxism yet 
recognized that the development of a strong and vital 
culture centered on the arts (and especially literature) was 
not high on its agenda. He saw great literature as con- 
cerned with "life," a term he never defined precisely but 
which clearly included self-realization, psychic health, the 
development of positive and vital relationships, fulfill- 
ment, generosity, humanity. "Intelligence about life" is 
a recurring phrase in his analyses. 

He was fully aware of the degeneration of modern 
Western culture. His later works show an increasing 
desperation, resulting in an obsessive repetitiveness that 
can be wearying. One has the feeling that he was reduced 
to forcing himself to believe, against all the evidence, that 
his ideals were still realizable. Although it seems essential 
to keep in mind, in our dealings with art, "life" in the 
fiill Leavisian sense, the responsible critic (of film or 
anything else) is also committed to fighting for our mere 
survival, by defending or attacking films from a political 
viewpoint. Anything else is fiddling while Rome burns. 

3. The problem of intentionality. Leavis showed no 
interest whatever in Freud or the development of psycho- 
analytical theory. When he analyzes a poem or a novel, 
the underlying assumption is always that the author knew 

exactly what he or she was doing. Today we seem to have 
swung, somewhat dangerously, to the other extreme: we 
analyze films in terms of "subtexts" that may (in some 
cases must) have emerged from the unconscious, well 
below the level of intention. 

This is fascinating and seductive, but also dangerous, 
territory. Where does one draw the line? The question 
arises predominantly in the discussion of minor works 
within the "entertainment" syndrome, where the film- 
makers are working within generic conventions. It would 
be largely a waste of time searching for "unconscious" 
subtexts in the films of, say, Michael Haneke (b. 1942), 
Hou Hsiao-Hsien (b. 1947), or Abbas Kiarostami 
(b. 1940), major artists in fiiU consciousness of their subject 
matter. But in any case critics should exercise a certain 
caution: they may be finding meanings that they are 
planting there themselves. The discovery of an arguably 
unconscious meaning is justified if it uncovers a coherent 
subtext that can be traced throughout the work. Even 
Freud, after all, admitted that "sometimes a cigar is just a 
cigar" — the validity of reading one as a phallic symbol 
will depend on its context (the character smoking it, the 
situation within which it is smoked, its connection to 
imagery elsewhere in the film). The director George 
Romero expressed surprise at the suggestion that Night 
of the Living Dead (the original 1968 version) is about 
tensions, frustrations, and repression within the patriar- 
chal nuclear family; but the entire film, from the opening 
scene on, with its entire cast of characters, seems to 
demand this reading. 

Why, then, should Leavis still concern us? We need, 
in general, his example and the qualities that form and 
vivify it: his deep seriousness, commitment, intransi- 
gence, the profundity of his concerns, his sense of value 
in a world where all values seem rapidly becoming 
debased into the values of the marketplace. Leavis's 
detractors have parodied his notion that great art is 
"intelligent about life," but the force of this assumption 
becomes clear from its practical application to film as to 
literature, as a few examples, negative and positive, illus- 
trate. Take a film honored with Academy Awards®, 
including one for Best Picture. Rob Marshall's Chicago 
(2002) is essentially a celebration of duplicity, cynicism, 
one-upmanship, and mean-spiritedness: intelligent about 
life? The honors bestowed on it tell us a great deal about 
the current state of civilization and its standards. At the 
other extreme one might also use Leavis's dictum to raise 
certain doubts about a film long and widely regarded by 
many as the greatest ever made, Citizen Kane (1941), 
directed by Orson Welles (1915-1985). No one, I think, 
will deny the film its brilliance, its power, its status as a 
landmark in the evolution of cinema. But is that very 
brilliance slightly suspect? Is Welles's undeniable 
intelligence, his astonishing grasp of his chosen medium. 




too much employed as a celebration of himself and his 
own genius, the dazzling magician of cinema? To raise 
such questions, to challenge the accepted wisdom, is a way 
to open debate, and essentially a debate about human 
values. Certain other films, far less insistent on their own 
greatness, might be adduced as exemplifying "intelligence 
about life": examples that spring to mind (remaining 
within the bounds of classical Hollywood) include Tabu 
(F. W. Murnau, 1931), Rio Bravo (Hawks, 1959), Make 
Way for Tomorrow (McCarey, 1937), Letter from an 
Unknown Woman (Max Ophiils, 1948), and Vertigo 
(Hitchcock, 1958) — all films in which the filmmaker 
seems totally dedicated to the realization of the thematic 
material rather than to self-aggrandizement. 

There are of course whole areas of valid critical 
practice that Leavis's approach leaves untouched: the evo- 
lution of a Hollywood genre or cycle (western, musical, 
horror film, screwball comedy), and its social impli- 
cations. But the question of standards, of value, and the 
critical judgments that result should remain and be of 
ultimate importance. One might discuss at length (with 
numerous examples) how and why film noir flourished 
during and in the years immediately following World 
War II, its dark and pessimistic view of America devel- 
oping side by side, like its dark shadow, with the patriotic 
and idealistic war movie. But the true critic will also want 
to debate the different inflections and relative value of, 
say. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), Double 
Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944), The Big Sleep (Hawks, 
1946), and Out of the Past (JsLcquesTomneur, 1947). Or, 
to move outside Hollywood and forward in time, how 
one reads and values the films of, for example, the 
German director Michael Haneke should be a matter of 
intense critical debate and of great importance to the 
individual. A value judgment, one must remember, by 
its very nature cannot be proven — it can only be argued. 
The debate will be ongoing, and agreement may never be 
reached; even where there is a consensus, it may be 
overturned in the next generation. But this is the strength 
of true critical debate, not its weakness; it is what sets 
criticism above theory, which should be its servant. A 
work of any importance and complexity is not a fitct that 
can be proven and pigeon-holed. The purpose of critical 
debate is the development and refinement of personal 
judgment, the evolution of the individual sensibility. 
Such debates go beyond the valuation of a given film, 
forcing one to question, modify, develop, refine one's 
own value system. It is a sign of the degeneration of 
our culture that they seem rarely to take place. 


Surprisingly, given its prominence in world cinema since 
the silent days, none of the major movements and devel- 

opments in film theory and criticism has originated in 
the United States, though American academics have been 
quick to adopt the advances made in Europe (especially 
France) and Britain. 

A brief overview might begin with the British mag- 
azines Sight and Sound (founded in 1934) and Sequence 
(a decade later). The two became intimately connected, 
with contributors moving from one to the other. The 
dominant figures were Gavin Lambert, Karel Reisz 
(1926-2002), Tony Richardson (1928-1991), and 
Lindsay Anderson (1923-1994), the last three of whom 
developed into filmmakers of varying degrees of distinc- 
tion and who were regarded for a time as "the British 
New Wave" (though without the scope or staying power 
of the French Nouvelle Vague). The historic importance 
of these magazines lies in the communal effort to bring to 
criticism (and subsequently to British cinema) an overtly 
political dimension, their chief editors and critics having 
a strong commitment to the Left and consequently to the 
development of a cinema that would deal explicitly with 
social problems from a progressive viewpoint. British 
films were preferred and Hollywood films generally deni- 
grated or treated with intellectual condescension as mere 
escapist entertainment, with the partial exceptions of 
Ford and Hitchcock; Anderson especially championed 
Ford, and Hitchcock was seen as a distinguished popular 
entertainer. As its more eminent and distinctive critics 
moved into filmmaking. Sight and Sound lost most of its 
political drive (under the editorship of Penelope 
Houston) but retained its patronizing attitude toward 

Developments in France during the 1950s, through 
the 1960s and beyond, initially less political, have been 
both more influential and more durable. Andre Bazin 
remains one of the key figures in the evolution of film 
criticism, his work still alive and relevant today. Already 
active in the 1940s, he was co-founder of Cahiers du 
Cinema in 1951, and acted as a kind of benevolent father 
figure to the New Wave filmmakers (and almost literally 
to Fran9ois Truffaut [1932-1984]), as well as himself 
producing a number of highly distinguished "key" texts 
that continue to be reprinted in critical anthologies. 
Bazin's essays "The Evolution of Film Language" 
(1968) and "The Evolution of the Western" (1972) 
led, among other things, to the radical reappraisal of 
Hollywood, reopening its "popular entertainment" 
movies to a serious revaluation that still has repercus- 
sions. Even the most astringent deconstructionists of 
semiotics have not rendered obsolete his defense (indeed, 
celebration) of realism, which never falls into the trap of 
naively seeing it as the unmediated reproduction of 
reality. His work is a model of criticism firmly grounded 
in theory. 




Bazin encouraged the "Young Turks" of French 
cinema throughout the 1950s and 1960s, first as critics 
on Cahiers (to which Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, 
Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and Truffaut were all 
contributors, with Rohmer as subsequent editor), then 
as filmmakers. Would the New Wave have existed with- 
out him as its modest and reticent centrifiagal force? 
Possibly. But it would certainly have been quite different, 
more dispersed. 

The Cahiers critics (already looking to their cine- 
matic futures) set about revaluating the whole of cinema. 
Their first task was to downgrade most of the established, 
venerated "classics" of the older generation of French 
directors, partly to clear the ground for their very differ- 
ent, in some respects revolutionary, style and subject 
matter: such filmmakers as Marcel Carne, Julien 
Duvivier, Rene Clement, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and 
Jean Delannoy found themselves grouped together as 
the "tradition de qualite" or the "cinema de papa," their 
previously lauded films now seen largely as expensive 
studio-bound productions in which the screenwriter was 
more important than the director, whose job was to 
"realize" a screenplay rather than make his own personal 
movie. Some were spared: Robert Bresson, Abel Gance, 
Jacques Becker, Jacques Tati, Jean Cocteau, and above all 
Jean Renoir (1894-1979), another New Wave father 
figure, all highly personal and idiosyncratic directors, 
were seen more as creators than "realizers." 

It was a relatively minor figure, Alexandre Astruc, 
who invented the term camera-stylo, published in 1 949 in 
L'Ecran Franqais (no. 144; reprinted in Peter Graham, 
The New Wave), suggesting that a personal film is written 
with a camera rather than a pen. Most of the major New 
Wave directors improvised a great deal, especially 
Godard (who typically worked from a mere script outline 
that could be developed or jettisoned as filming pro- 
gressed) and Rivette, who always collaborated on his 
screenplays, oftien with the actors. Partly inspired by 
Italian neorealism, and especially the highly idiosyncratic 
development of it by one of their idols, Roberto 
RosseUini (1906-1977), the NewWave directors moved 
out of the studio and into the streets — or buildings, or 
cities, or countryside. 

As critics, their interests were international. Would 
Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956) be as (justly) famous in 
the West without their eulogies? Would Rossellini's films 
with Ingrid Bergman — Stromboli (1950), Europa 51 
(1952), Viaggio in Italia [Voyage to Italy, 1953] — 
rejected with contempt by the Anglo-Saxon critical 
fraternity, ever have earned their reputations as master- 
pieces? Yet our greatest debt to the New Wave director- 
critics surely lies in their transformation of critical 
attitudes to classical Hollywood and the accompanying 

formulation of the by turns abhorred and celebrated 
"auteur theory." 

Anyone with eyes can see that films by Carl Dreyer 
(1889-1968), Renoir, Rossellini, Mizoguchi, and Welles 
are "personal" films that could never have been made by 
anyone else. On the other hand, one might view Red 
River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), 
Monkey Business (1952), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 
(1953) without ever noticing that they were all directed 
by the same person, Howard Hawks. Before Cahiers, few 
people bothered to read the name of the director on the 
credits of Hollywood films, let alone connect the films' 
divergent yet compatible and mutually resonant the- 
matics. Without Cahiers, would we today be seeing retro- 
spectives in our Cinematheques of films not only of 
Hitchcock and Ford, but also of Hawks, Anthony 
Mann, Leo McCarey, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, 
Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Sam Fuller, and Budd 

For some time the Cahiers excesses laid it open to 
Anglo-Saxon ridicule. What is one to make today of a 
(polemical) statement such as that of Godard: "The 
cinema is Nicholas Ray"? Why not "The cinema is 
Mizoguchi" or "The cinema is Carl Dreyer" or even, 
today, "The cinema is Jean-Luc Godard"? Many of the 
reviews are open to the objection that the readings of the 
films are too abstract, too philosophical or metaphysical, 
to do proper justice to such concrete and accessible 
works, and that the auteur theory (roughly granting the 
director complete control over every aspect of his films) 
could be applied without extreme modification to only a 
handful of directors (Hawks, McCarey, Preminger) who 
achieved the status of producers of their own works. And 
even they worked within the restrictions of the studio 
system, with its box-office concerns, the Production 
Code, and the availability of "stars." Nevertheless, 
Cahiers has had a lasting and positive effect on the degree 
of seriousness with which we view what used to be 
regarded as standard fare and transient entertainment. 

Outside France, the Cahiers rediscovery of classical 
Hollywood provoked two opposite responses. In 
England, Sight and Sound predictably found it all slightly 
ridiculous; on the other hand, it was clearly the inspira- 
tion for the very existence of Movie, founded in 1962 by 
a group of young men in their final years at Oxford 
University. Ian Cameron, V. F. Perkins, and Mark 
Shivas initially attracted attention with a film column 
printed in Oxford Opinion. With Paul Mayersberg, they 
formed the editorial board of Movie; they were subse- 
quendy joined, as contributors, by Robin Wood, Michael 
Walker, Richard Dyer, Charles Barr, Jim Hillier, 
Douglas Pye, and eventually Andrew Britton. Of the 
original group, Perkins has had the greatest longevity as 




Howard Hawks, producer of The Thing from Another World ( Christian Nyby, 1951) was a favorite ofauteur critics. 

a critic, his Film as Film (deliberately contradicting the 
usual "Film as Art") remaining an important text. Movie 
(its very title deliberately invoking Hollywood) must be 
seen as a direct descendant of Cahiers. Its tone, however, 
was very different, its analyses more concrete, tied closely 
to the texts, rarely taking off (unlike Cahiers) into headier 
areas of metaphysical speculation. The opposition 
between Sight and Sound and Movie was repeated in the 
United States, with Pauline Kael launching attacks on 
Movie's alleged excesses and Andrew Sarris (Kael's pri- 
mary target since his 1962 "Notes on the Auteur 
Theory") producing The American Cinema in 1968, with 
its ambitious and groundbreaking categorization of all 
the Hollywood directors of any consequence. It remains a 
useful reference text. 

The British scene was complicated by developments 
within the more academic journal Screen, which, in its 

development of structural analysis by (among others) 

Alan Lovell and the introduction of concepts of iconog- 
raphy by Colin McArthur, in some ways anticipated the 
events to come. But all this was about to be blown apart 
by the events in France of May 1968 and the repercus- 
sions throughout the intellectual world. 


The student and worker riots in France in May 1968, 
hailed somewhat optimistically as the "Second French 
Revolution," transformed Cahiers almost overnight, inspir- 
ing a similar revolution in Godard's films. The massive 
swing to the Left, the fervent commitment to Marx and 
Mao, demanded not only new attitudes but also a whole 
new way of thinking and a new vocabulary to express it, 
and a semiotics of cinema was born and flourished. Roland 




b. New York, New York, 31 October 1928 

Eminently sensible and perennially graceful in the 
articulation of his views, Andrew Sarris has been one of the 
most important of American film critics. His influence 
upon the shaping of the late-twentieth-century critical 
landscape is inestimable — both for his hand in developing 
an intellectually rigorous academic film culture and for 
bringing the proselytizing auteur theory to popular 
attention. The acumen and resolve of his writing set a 
benchmark for the scrupulous and cogent close analysis of 
cinematic style. 

Among the pioneering voices of a new generation of 
self-proclaimed cinephiles — or "cultists," in his own 
terms — Sarris began his professional career in 1955, 
reviewing for Jonas Mekas's seminal journal. Film Culture, 
where he helped develop one of the first American serial 
publications dedicated to the serious critical investigation 
of film. After a brief sojourn in Paris in 1960, he began 
writing reviews for the fledgling alternative newspaper, the 
Village Voice, in New York City. His polemical reviews 
generated considerable debate and helped secure Sarris a 
position as senior critic for the Voice from 1962 to 1989. 

As an intellectual American film culture exploded 
during the 1960s, Sarris was able to provide a newly 
professionalized critical establishment with two 
enormously influential (and controversial) concepts 
imported from the Cahiers critics in France: the auteur 
theory and mise-en-scene. His development of a director- 
centered critical framework grew out of a dissatisfaction 
with the "sociological critic" — leftist-oriented writers 
seemingly more interested in politics than film — whose 
reviews tended simplistically to synchronize film history 
and social history. While his attempt to establish 
auteurism as a theory may not have been entirely 
persuasive, it generated considerable debate regarding the 
creative and interpretive relationships between a director. 

her collaborators, and the audience itself. Further, in his 
own critical analyses, Sarris was one of the first critics to 
focus on style rather than content. This reversal was not an 
apolitical embracing of empty formalism, but rather a 
unified consideration of a film's stylistic and mimetic 
elements in the interests of discerning an artist's personal 
worldview. For him, a film's success does not hinge on 
individual contributions by various creative personnel, but 
on the coherence of the auteur s "distinguishable 
personality," made manifest in the subtext — or "interior 
meanings" — of the work. 

Along with his sometime rivals, Pauline Kael at The 
New Yorker and Stanley Kauffmann at The New Republic, 
Sarris was among the first of a new generation of critics 
dedicated to elevating the cultural status of film, 
particularly American cinema. In his efforts to promote 
film as an expressive art rather than a mere commercial 
product, he co-founded the prestigious National Society of 
Film Critics in 1966 and offered a new auteur-Anwtn 
history of Hollywood in the canonical American Cinema 
(1968), in which he mapped and ranked the work of all 
the important directors ever to work in Hollywood. 


Levy, Emmanuel, ed. Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic. 

Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001. 
Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema, Directors and 

Directions, 1929—1968. Revised ed. Cambridge, MA; Da 

Capo Press, 1996. 
. Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955—1969. 

New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970. 

-. The Primal Screen: Fssays on Film and Related 

Subjects. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. 

comp. Interviews with Film Directors. Indianapolis, 

IN: Bobbs-MerriU, 1967. 

Aaron E. N. Taylor 

Barthes, Christian Metz, and Jacques Lacan became semi- 
nal influences, and traditional criticism was (somewhat 
prematurely) pronounced dead or at least obsolete. A dis- 
tinguished and widely influential instance was the metic- 
ulously detailed Marxist-Lacanian analysis of Ford's Young 
Mr. Lincoln (1939) produced collaboratively by the new 
Cahiers collective; it deserves its place in film history as one 

of the essential texts. British critical work swiftly followed 
suit, with Peter WoUen's seminal Signs and Meaning in the 
Cinema (1969, revised 1972), which remains an essential 
text. Whereas Movie had adopted many of the aims and 
positions of the original Cahiers, it was now Screen that 
took up the challenge of the new, instantly converted to 
semiotics. The magazine published the Young Mr. Lincoln 




Andrew Sarris with his wife, the critic Molly Haskell. 

article in translation, and it was followed by much work in 
the same tradition. In terms of sheer ambition, one must 
single out Stephen Heath's two-part analysis and decon- 
struction of Welles's Touch of Evil (1958). 

Semiotics was expected by its adherents to transform 
not only criticism but also the world. Its failure to do so 
resides largely in the fact that it has remained a daunt- 
ingly esoteric language. Its disciples failed to bridge the 
gulf between themselves and a general readership; per- 
haps the gulf is in fact unbridgeable. Its influence outside 
academia has been negligible, though within academia it 
continues, if not to flourish, at least to remain a presence, 
developing new phases, striking up a relationship with 
that buzzword du jour, postmodernism. Its effect on 
traditional critical discourse has however been devastating 
(which is not to deny its validity or the value of its 
contribution). "Humanism" became a dirty word. But 
what is humanism but a belief in the importance for us 
all of human emotions, human responses, human desires, 
human fears, hence of the actions, drives, and behavior 
appropriate to the achievement of a sense of fulfillment, 
understanding, reciprocation, caring? Are these no longer 
important, obsolete like the modes of discourse in which 
they expressed themselves? Semiotics is a tool, and a 

valuable one, but it was mistaken for a while for the 
ultimate goal. Criticism, loosely defined here as being 
built on the sense of value, was replaced by "decon- 
struction," debate by alleged "proof." It seemed the 
ultimate triumph of what Leavis called (after Jeremy 
Bentham) the "technologico-Benthamite world," the 
world of Utilitarianism that grew out of the Industrial 
Revolution and was so brilliantly satirized by Charles 
Dickens in Hard Times (1845), which in turn was bril- 
liantly analyzed by Leavis in Dickens the Novelist. During 
the reign of semiotics Leavis was, of course, expelled from 
the curriculum, and it is high time for his restoration. 

The massive claims made for semiotics have died 
down, and the excitement has faded. In addition to the 
articles mentioned above, it produced, in those heady 
days, texts that deserve permanent status: the seminal 
works of Barthes (always the most accessible of the semi- 
oticians). Mythologies (1957, translated into English in 
1972) and SIZ (1970, translated into English in 1974), 
with its loving, almost sentence-by-sentence analysis of 
Honore de Balzac's Sarrasine; Raymond Bellour's 
Hitchcock analyses (though it took most readers quite a 
time to realize that Bellour and Heath actually loved the 
films they deconstructed). And, more generally, semiotics 
has taught us (even those who doubt its claims to supply 
all the answers) to be more precise and rigorous in our 
examination of films. 

Out of the radicalism of the 1970s there developed 

not only semiotics but also a new awareness of race and 
racism and the advent of radical feminism. Laura 
Mulvey's pioneering article "Visual Pleasure and 
Narrative Cinema" (1975) rapidly became, in its concise 
few pages, enormously influential, opening a veritable 
floodgate of feminist analysis, much of it concerned with 
the exposure of the inherent and structural sexism of the 
Hollywood cinema. It was impossible to predict, from 
Mulvey's dangerous oversimplification of Hawks and 
Hitchcock, that she would go on to produce admirable 
and loving analyses of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and 
Notorious (1946); but it was the very extremeness of the 
original article that gave it its force. Mulvey's work 
opened up possibilities for a proliferation of women's 
voices within a field that had traditionally been domi- 
nated by men — work (as with semiotics itself) of 
extremely diverse quality but often of great distinction, 
as, for example, Tania Modleski's splendid book on 
Hitchcock, The Women Who Knew Too Much (1988, 
with a new expanded edition in 2004). 


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the world is 
beset with problems ranging from the destruction of the 




environment to terrorism and the ever-present threat of 
nuclear war. The Hollywood product reflects a culture 
beset by endless "noise," the commodification of sex, and 
the constant distractions of junk culture. In such a sce- 
nario, the modest and marginalized discipline of film 
criticism might yet again play an active role. 

What would one ask, today, within an increasingly 
desperate cultural situation, of that mythical figure the 
Ideal Critic? First, a firm grasp of the critical landmarks 
merely outlined above, with the ability to draw on all or 
any according to need. To the critics mentioned must be 
added, today, the names of Stanley Cavell and William 
Rothman, intelligent representatives of a new conserva- 
tism. As Pier Paolo Pasolini told us at the beginning of 
his Arabian Nights, "the truth lies, not in one dream, but 
in many": Bazin and Barthes are not incompatible, one 
does not negate the other, so why should one have to 
choose? We must feel free to draw on anything that we 
find helpfiil, rather then assuming that one new theory 
negates all previous ones. And in the background we 
should restore relations with Leavis and "questions of 
value," but accompanied by a politicization that Leavis 
would never have accepted (or would he, perhaps, 
today?). The value of a given film for us, be it classical 
Hollywood, avant-garde, documentary, silent or sound, 
black-and-white or color, will reside not only in its 
aesthetic qualities, its skills, its incidental pleasures, but 
also in what use we can make of it within the present 
world situation. 

SEE ALSO Auteur Theory and Authorship; Genre; 
Ideology; Journals and Magazines; Postmodernism; 
Psychoanalysis; Publicity and Promotion; Queer 
Theory; Reception Theory; Semiotics; Spectatorship 
and Audiences; Structuralism and Poststructuralism 


Barthes, Roland. Edited and translated by Annette 
Layers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. 

. SIZ: An Essay. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: 

Hill and Wang, 1974. 
Bazin, Andre. What Is Cinema! Edited and translated by Hugh 

Gray. 2 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 


Graham, Peter, ed. The New Wave. Garden City, NY: 
Doubleday, and London: Seeker and Warburg, 1968. 

Heath, Stephen. "Film and System: Terms of Analysis." Screen 
16, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Summer 1975): 91-113. 

Leavis, F. R. The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, 
Joseph Conrad. New York: New York University Press, 1963. 

Leavis, F. R., and Q. D. Leavis. Dickens, the Novelist. London: 
Chatto and Windus, 1970. 

Metz, Christian. Film Language: A Semiotics ojthe Cinema. 
Translated by Michael Taylor. New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1974. 

Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock 
and Feminist Theory. New York and London: Methuen, 1988. 

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen 
16, no. 3 (1975): 6-8. Reprinted in Visual and Other 
Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. 

Perkins, Victor. Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies. 
Baltimore: Penguin, 1972. 

Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 
1929-1968. New York: Dutton, 1968. Revised ed., Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1985. 

, ed. Interviews with Film Directors. New York: Discus, 1969. 

Wollen, Peter. Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, revised ed. 
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, and London: British 

Film Institute, 1972. 

Wood, Robin. Hitchcock 's Films Revisited. New York: Columbia 
University Press, 1989. 

Robin Wood 




Cuba is an anomaly in the history of Latin American 
cinema. Cuban film history is the story of a formerly 
quiet and docile little film industry that experienced a 
sudden and explosive acceleration of production after the 
revolution in 1959. Cuban cinema has had an unusual 
role in shaping a national dialogue about art, identity, 
consciousness, and social change and has emerged as one 
of the most distinct and influential national cinemas in 
the region. While all of the film industries in Latin 
America contend with Hollywood's monopoly over the 
industry, Cuba also faces the effects of an ongoing eco- 
nomic embargo — the result of a complex and defiant 
relationship with the United States. These factors influ- 
ence both the conditions of production and the content 
of the films themselves. 


Cinema first arrived in Cuba in 1897 when an agent for 
the Lumiere brothers came to display the newly invented 
cinematographe and also shoot footage of local scenes on 
the island. The country developed a tremendous and 
enduring appetite for moving pictures during the first 
half of the century, with cinemas springing up in great 
numbers. By 1920 there were 50 cinemas in Havana and 
more than 300 in the rest of the country. There were a 
number of notable and popular achievements during this 
prerevolutionary period, including La Virgen de la 
Caridad {The Virgin of Charity, 1930) and El Romance 
del Palmar {Romance Under the Palm Trees, 1935) both 
by Ramon Peon, and other early filmmakers all of which 
conformed with the established genres and styles that 
characterized Latin American cinema at the time. In spite 
of these these and other efforts, a national cinema failed 

to develop as fully in Cuba as in some other Latin 
American countries, largely due to economic factors and 
the dominant position of North American distributors in 
controlling the local industry. 

In the 1940s and 1950s amateur filmmakers in 
different parts of the island grouped together to form a 
number of cine-clubs, organized around the screening 
and production of films. They established amateur film 
competitions and festivals, which continue to form an 
important aspect of Cuban cultural life today. One ama- 
teur group of particular importance, Nuestro Tiempo, 
fronted a radical leftist cultural organization that sup- 
ported efforts to overthrow the regime of Fulgencio 
Batista, which had been in power since 1952. Nuestro 
Tiempo counted among its young members many of the 
figures who later became seminal to modern Cuban 
cinema, including Alfredo Guevara (b. 1925), Santiago 
Alvarez (1919-1998), Tomas Gutierrez Alea (1928- 
1996), and Julio Garcia Espinosa (b. 1926). The group 
strongly supported the revolution that came to power on 
1 January 1959, establishing Fidel Castro as the 
commander in chief. It was only after the revolution that 
a national film industry was set in motion and national 
cinema developed in earnest. 


Three months later, in what was to be its first cultural 
act, the revolutionary government created a national film 
industry, called the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria 
Cinematograficos (ICAIC). At its inception ICAIC dedi- 
cated itself to producing and promoting cinema as a 
vehicle for communicating the ideas of the revolution, 




b. Havana, Cuba, 11 December 1928, d. 16 April 1996 

Cuba's most widely known and beloved director, Tomas 
Gutierrez Alea (known in Cuba as "Titon"), earned a law 
degree at the University of Havana while concurrendy 
making his first fdms. He went on to study at the Centro 
Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, and the influence 
of Italian neorealism is evident in El Megano (The charcoal 
worker), a film he made in collaboration with Julio Garcia 
Espinosa in 1955 after returning to Cuba. El Megano had a 
seminal role in the beginning of the politicized movement 
known as New Latin American Cinema, taking its place at 
the forefront of attempts by Latin American filmmakers to 
explore the potential political impact of the medium on 
social issues close to home. 

A fervent supporter of the 1959 revolution, Alea was 
one of the founders of the Instituto Cubano del Arte e (la) 
Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC). His substantial body 
of work describes the nuances and contradictions of 
everyday life in socialist Cuba. Alea spoke frankly about 
the reality of the Cuban revolution with all of its 
idiosyncrasies, citing the importance of intellectual 
critique in ongoing social change. His films address 
complex political realities, an absurdly convoluted 
bureaucratic process, and the persistence of reactionary 
mentalities in a society that had rededicated itself to the 
fulfillment of progressive ideals. 

The warmth, vitality, and complexity of Alea's films 
challenge the stereotype of communist cinema as rote 
propaganda. Alea called for a "dialectical cinema" that 
would engage the viewer in an active, ongoing 
conversation about Cuban life. 

He explored a wide range of genres and styles 
throughout his long career, making documentaries, 
comedies, and historical and contemporary dramas. His 
historical pieces Una Pelea cubana contra los demonios {A 
Cuban Fight Against Demons, 1 972) and La Ultima cena 
( The Last Supper, 1 976) are among the finest examples of 

Cuba's many notable films in the genre. Alea's comedies 
Las Doce sillas {The Twelve Chairs, 1960), La Muerte de un 
burocrata (Death of a Bureaucrat, 1966), Los Sobrevivientes 
(The Survivors, 1979), and Guantanamera (1995) 
affectionately poke fun at the bureaucratic lunacy of the 
Cuban political system and the resilience of bourgeois 
values, making full use of the strategies of social satire and 
farce in doing so. 

Alea is best known for his films Memorias del 
subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968) and 
Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1994), which 
share the distinction of being the most acclaimed Cuban 
films to date. Memories of Underdevelopment chxonides the 
ruminations of a politically unaffiliated middle-class 
intellectual who becomes increasingly alienated from his 
surroundings after the triumph of the revolution, but lacks 
the conviction to leave Cuba. Strawberry and Chocolate was 
the first Cuban film to receive an Academy Award® 
nomination for Best Foreign Film. Set in the 1970s during 
a period of ideological conformity, the film concerns the 
friendship between a flamboyantly gay older man and a 
politically militant university student. In Alea's treatment 
of the historical period, it is the militant student who 
undergoes a profound emotional transformation and 
comes to understand that the eccentric iconoclast is in fact 
the real hero. 


Las Doce sillas (The Twelve Chairs, 1960), La Muerte de un 
burocrata (Death of a Bureaucrat, 1966), Memorias del 
subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968), La 
Ultima cena ( The Last Supper, 1 976) , Fresa y chocolate 
(Strawberry and Chocolate, 1994) 


Schroeder, Paul A. Tomas Gutierrez Alea: The Dialectics of a 
Filmmaker. New York: Routledge, 2002. 

Ruth Goldberg 

recognizing film as a medium for education and seeking 
to provide an ideological alternative to the powerful 
media machine of Hollywood. 

In 1960 the magazine Cine Cubano was founded, 
sponsored by ICAIC, and it remains one of the primary 
sources of film criticism and analysis by Cuban authors, 

chronicling the emerging history as it unfolds. Initially, 
great emphasis was placed on developing a visual record 
of the revolutionary project, and ICAIC focused on 
producing newsreels and documentary films in the early 
years. These films were used to disseminate information 
about new initiatives such as agrarian reform and Cuba's 




Tomds Gutierrez Alea. © unifilm/courtesy everett collection, reproduced by permission. 

massive literacy campaign. Por primera vez {For the First 
Time, Octavio Cortazar, 1967), which chronicles the 
beginnings of Cuba's mobile cinema movement — in 
which cinema was introduced into rural areas that had 
previously been without electricity — is one of many 
examples of the high quality and emotional resonance 
of early Cuban documentary filmmaking from the first 
decade of production after the revolution. 

In a country known for its innovative documentary 
films, Santiago Alvarez distinguished himself as Cuba's 
best-known documentary filmmaker during his long and 
prolific career. Using only minimal equipment and con- 
centrating the bulk of his efforts toward adapting the 
strategies of Soviet montage to his own agenda, Alvarez 
created an enduringly powerful, unsettling, and innova- 
tive body of work, including the films Ciclon {Hurricane, 
1963), Now (1965), Hanoi, martes 13 {Hanoi, Tuesday 
13th, 1967), LB] (1968), and 79 primaveras {79 Springs, 
1969), among others. Alvarez explored themes of anti- 
imperialist struggle in many of his finest works, leaving 
behind a polemical and hard-hitting filmic legacy that 
has influenced subsequent generations of Third World 

Lesser known but of critical importance, the lyrical 
and haunting documentaries of Nicolas Guillen Landrian 

(1938-2003) show evidence of an original cinematic 
voice. The thirteen films he made for ICAIC, including 
Ociel de Toa, Reportaje (Reportage, 1966), and Cojfea 
Arabiga (Arabica Coffee, 1968), have rarely been seen, 
although there was a revival of critical interest in his work 
shortly before he died in 2003. 


Many notable fiction films, too, were completed during 

the exciting first decade under the ICAIC, forming the 
basis for a "Nuevo Cine Cubano," or "New Cuban 
Cinema." Among these were Alea's La Muerte de un 
burocrata {Death of a Bureaucrat, 1966) and Memorias 
del suhdesarrollo {Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968). 
Death of a Bureaucrat firmly established the Cuban audi- 
ence's penchant for social satire. Outsiders are often 
surprised to see the extent to which state-sponsored films 
such as Death of a Bureaucrat openly address the idiosyn- 
crasies of the system, but in fact this tendency, exempli- 
fied by Alea's ofiien imitated films, defines one central 
tendency of Cuba's national cinema. Memories of 
Underdevelopment, on the other hand, shows an entirely 
different aspect of Alea's range, being an example of 
dialectical cinema at its finest. Stylistically and thematically 




rich, Memories creates the opportunity for elevating poht- 
ical consciousness within the artistic experience, and urges 
the spectator toward an active, open-ended exchange with 
the film. 

Alea's early films and the others made by ICAIC 
largely explored issues of Cuban national identity, the 
colonial legacy, and the new revolutionary agenda, using 
different formats and genres to do so. During this same 
period, Humberto Solas (b. 1941) made the classic films 
Manuela (1966) and Lucia (1968), initiating the trend of 
using a female protagonist as an allegorical representation 
of the complex, evolving national identity, and establish- 
ing Solas as one of Cuba's original artistic voices. Both 
films were masterfully edited by Nelson Rodriguez 
(b. 1938), one of Cuba's great editing talents. Rodriguez's 
filmography demonstrates the extent to which he has 
been an integral part of Cuban cinema since the revolu- 
tion, working on many if not most of the outstanding 
films produced to date. Solas's strategy of using a margi- 
nalized character to represent the progressive national 
agenda was later taken up by other Cuban directors, 
including Retrato de Teresa {Portrait of Teresa, 1979) by 
Pastor Vega (1940-2005), Hasta cierta punto {Up to 
a Certain Point, 1983) by Alea, and De cierta manera 
{One Way or Another, 1974) by Sara Gomez (1943- 

Also within this extraordinary first decade, both La 
Primera carga al machete ( The First Charge of the Machete, 
1969), by Manuel Octavio Gomez (1934-1988), and 
Garcia Espinosa's Las Aventuras de Juan Quin Quin 
{The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin, 1967) dealt with 
issues of history and identity, using innovative stylistic 
formats in an overt refusal to conform to established 
genres or traditional means of narration. Such nonlinear 
narratives require a different kind of attention and par- 
ticipation on the part of the audience, demonstrating the 
ethos of experimentation that was integral to postrevolu- 
tionary Cuban cinema from the very beginning. 

The period that followed the euphoric 1960s has 
become known as the "five gray years," during which 
time Cuban art was produced in an atmosphere of ideo- 
logical conformity. In spite of the climate of the times, 
many exceptional historical dramas appeared during this 
period, including Una Pelea cubana contra los demonios 
{A Cuban Fight Against Demons, 1 972) and La Ultima 
cena {The Last Supper, 1976) by Alea; Los Dtas de agua 
{Days of Water, 1971) by Gomez; Paginas del diario de 
Jose Marti by Jose Massip; and El Otro Francisco {The 
Other Francisco, 1975) and Maluala (1979), both by 
Sergio Giral (b. 1937). 

During the same period, Julio Garcia Espinosa wrote 
the essay "Por Un Cine imperfecto" ("For an Imperfect 
Cinema"), which called the technical perfection of 

Hollywood cinema a false goal and urged Third World 
filmmakers to focus instead on making films that actively 
require the engagement of the audience in constructing 
and shaping social reality. The essay had considerable 
influence, and remains one of the most important theo- 
retical tracts written by a Latin American filmmaker. In 
1974 one of the ICAIC's few female directors, Sara 
Gomez, made the film that is most emblematic of this 
period. De cierta manera {One Way or Another) is a radi- 
cally innovative film that merges fiction and documentary 
strategies in addressing a wide range of pressing social 
issues (machismo, the revolution, marginality, social 
change) with sensitivity and depth. The film is a polemical 
dialogue between the two main characters that reflects 
tensions in the larger society. One Way or Another, which 
was completed by collaborators Alea and Garcia Espinosa 
after Gomez's untimely death during production, has 
earned a well-deserved place in the canon of feminist film 
and has been the subject of international scholarship. 

Two years after the Family Code sought to address 
the ingrained issue of machismo in Cuban society by 
urging a new level of male participation in child rearing, 
and during a period in which Cuban women were being 
encouraged to enter the workforce. Pastor Vega made the 
controversial film Retrato de Teresa {Portrait of Teresa, 
1979). The film tackles the issues of women working 
outside the home and the double standards for men and 
women, among other highly sensitive topics, and it 
sparked widespread local debate, demonstrating that fem- 
inist ideals were far from fiilly integrated into Cuban 
society and ensuring that the reactionary legacy of 
machismo would continue to occupy the revolutionary 
agenda. Later the same year the annual Festival of New 
Latin American Cinema was inaugurated in Havana. The 
festival remains of one Cuba's defining annual cultural 
events and one of Latin America's major film festivals, 
providing a venue for exchange and dialogue and allowing 
many outsiders to see Cuba and Cuban cinema for 

The 1980s marked a shift away from the complex 
films Garcia Espinosa had envisioned in his essay on 
"imperfect cinema" and a general movement toward using 
more accessible and popular film forms. ICAIC's produc- 
tion was diverse, featuring a wide range of contemporary 
dramas, social satires, historical dramas, and genre films. A 
new and talented group of Cuban filmmakers emerged 
during this time, but for many, the explosive creativity 
and artistic merit of the first decade of production under 
ICAIC was lacking in Cuban film in the 1980s. One of 
several obvious exceptions, the full-length animated film 
iVampiros en la Habana! {Vampires in Havana, 1985), 
directed by Juan Padron (b. 1947), was a celebrated suc- 
cess. Padron had captured the popular imagination in 1979 
vsdth the animated feature Elpidio Valdes, a vehicle for his 




Mirta Ibarra in Tomds Gutierrez Aha's Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1994), Cuba's biggest international 


original visual style and strong narrative sensibility. Cuba 
has produced many talented animators — Tulio Raggi, 
Mario Rivas, and others — and the 1980s saw an unusually 
high level of productivity in the form. 

In 1985 the Escuela Internacional de Cine y 
Television (EICTV, International School of Film and 
Television) was founded with support from the 
Fundacion del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, and the 
Argentine director Fernando Birri (b. 1925), a pioneer in 
the New Latin American Cinema, was installed as its 
first director. The school, under the direction of Julio 
Garcia Espinosa, features a distinguished international 
faculty and students who come to Cuba from all over 
the world to participate in workshops and diploma pro- 
grams with such luminaries as the Colombian writer 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (b. 1928) and the US filmmaker 
Francis Ford Coppola (b. 1939), among many others. 


With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered 
what was termed the "Special Period," characterized by 
economic hardship, shortages, and a crisis of identity as 

Cuba's economic and political future was called into 
question. One of the outstanding films of 1991, the 
highly controversial black comedy Alicia en el Pueblo de 
Maravillas (Alice in Wondertown) by Daniel Diaz Torres 
(b. 1948), explored the tensions of the period using a 
surrealistic fantasy world as a backdrop, and taking the 
Cuban tradition of social satire to a new level. 

Several years later Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and 
Chocolate, 1994), directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea and 
Juan Carlos Tabio and written by Senal Paz, quickly 
became the most successful film in Cuban film history. 
It was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Foreign Film 
and introduced Cuban film to a wider audience than it 
had ever had before. Foreign audiences were surprised to 
learn that the Cuban government funds films such as 
Strawberry and Chocolate that are critical of political 
dogmatism. Strawberry and Chocolate was followed by 
what would be Alea's last film, Guantanamera (1995). 
Guantanamera is essentially a remake of his earlier Death 
of a Bureaucrat, set this time against the contradictions of 
the Special Period. The film is a loving farewell to Cuba 




and the Cuban people. Alea was already dying when he 
made it, and the film unfolds as a personal meditation on 
death, even as it works as both farce and national 

Fernando Perez (b. 1944), who began his career 
working as an assistant director under both Alea and 
Santiago Alvarez, has emerged as one of Cuba's most 
important and original directors. Madagascar (1994) 
and La Vida es silhar (Life Is to Whistle, 1998) are meta- 
phorical, contemplative, and dreamlike films that address 
familiar issues — Cuban identity chief among them — in 
entirely new ways. His films manage to affectionately and 
disarmingly address the internal tensions that confront 
the Cuban public, including a complex inner dialogue 
about leaving or remaining on the island. His award- 
winning documentary Suite Habana {Havana Suite, 
2003), a subtly moving and candid account of a day in 
the life of a number of residents of Havana, met with 
wide acclaim and a number of international awards. 

Increasingly, Cuban films deal with the ideas of 
leaving or returning to Cuba, and the fragmentation or 
reunion of families, including such disparate filmic 
efforts as Nada (Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, 2001), 
Miel para Oshun (Honey for Oshun, Humberto Sola, 
2001), and Video de familia (Family video, Humberto 
Padron, 2001). This heightened consciousness of Cuba's 
relation to the outside world is reflected in the economic 
realities of filmmaking as well. Increasingly, Cuba relies 
on co-productions with other countries to get films made, 
as the economic conditions of the industry continue to be 

Many fine films, both documentary and fiction, are 
also made independendy of the ICAIC. Recent efforts. 

including En Vena (In the vein, 2002) by Terence Piard 
Somohano, Raices de mi corazon (Roots of My Heart, 
2001) by Gloria Rolando, Un dia despues (The Day 
After, 2001) by Ismael Perdomo and Bladamir Zamora, 
and Utopia (2004) by Arturo Infante reflect the range of 
controversial topics that independent Cuban filmmakers 
are drawn to explore. Independent production in Cuba 
faces the same obstacles as independent production any- 
where else: it is inherently difficult for independent film- 
makers to find distribution and financing, let alone make 
a living as artists outside of the industry. However, with 
the proliferation of digital video technology, and initia- 
tives such as Humberto Solas's Festival de Cine Pobre 
(International Low-Budget Film Festival), which began 
in 2003, all signs indicate that new possibilities of cine- 
matic expression will continue to evolve on the island, 
and that Cuba will continue to make a valuable contri- 
bution to Latin American cinema. 

SEE ALSO National Cinema; Third Cinema 

Chanan, Michael. Cuban Cinema. Minneapolis: University of 

Minnesota Press, 2004. 

King, John. Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America. 
London: Verso, 1990. 

Martin, Michael T., ed. New Latin American Cinema, Volumes I 
and IL Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1997. 

Pick, Zuzana M., and Thomas G. Schatz. The New Latin 

American Cinema: A Continental Project. Austin: University of 
Texas Press, 1993. 

Ruth Goldberg 




The phrase "cult movie" is now used so often and so 
broadly that the concept to which it refers has become 
rather difficult to delimit, especially given the sheer 
diversity of films that have been brought together under 
the term. Though cult movies are often referred to as if 
they were a very specific and particular genre, this is not 
the case; such films fall into an enormous variety of 
different formal and stylistic categories. Indeed, many 
cult movies are categorized as such precisely because of 
their cross- or multigenre narratives, or other offbeat 
qualities that take them outside the realm of genre 

Films can develop cult foUowings in various ways: on 
the basis of their modes of production or exhibition, their 
internal textual features, or through acts of appropriation 
by specific audiences. The usual definition of the cult 
movie generally relies on a sense of its distinction from 
mainstream cinema. This definition, of course, raises 
issues about the role of the cult movie as an oppositional 
form, and its strained relationship with processes of 
institutionalization and classification. Fans of cult movies 
often describe them as quite distinct from the commer- 
cial film industries and the mainstream media, but many 
such films are actually far more dependent on these forms 
than their fans may be willing to admit. 

Most cult movies are low-budget productions, and 
most are undeniably flawed in some way, even if this 
means just poor acting or cheap special effects. Though 
many deal with subject matter that is generally consid- 
ered repulsive or distasteful, most of the movies that have 
garnered cult foUowings have done so not because they 
are necessarily shocking or taboo, but rather because they 
are made from highly individual viewpoints and involve 

strange narratives, eccentric characters, garish sets, or 
other quirky elements, which can be as apparently insig- 
nificant as a single unique image or cameo appearance by 
a particular bit-part actor or actress. Many cult movies 
lack mass appeal, and many would have disappeared 
from film history completely were it not for their devoted 
fans, whose dedication often takes the form of a fiery 

Cult movies cross all boundaries of taste, form, style, 
and genre. There are cult Westerns, like Johnny Guitar 
(1954); cult musicals, like The Sound of Music (1965); 
cult romances, like Gone with the Wind (1939); cult 
documentaries, like Gates of Heaven (1978); cult drug 
movies, like Easy Rider (1969); and cult teen movies, like 
American Graffiti (1973), Animal House (1978), and 
Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993). There 
are cult exploitation films, like Reefer Madness (1936); 
cult blaxploitation films, like Shaft (1971); and cult porn 
movies, like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door 
(both 1972). Many cult films are music-based and have 
developed a lasting following on the basis of their sound- 
track alone. These include Tommy (1975), Rock and Roll 
High School (1979), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Pink 
Floyd: The Wall{\3^2). 

There are other movies that have developed cult 
reputations simply because they convey a certain mood, 
evoke a certain atmosphere or time period, or are irrefu- 
tably strange. Examples include films as diverse as Harold 
and Maude (1971), D.O.A. (1980), Diva (1981), Blade 
Runner (1982), Scarface (1983), Repo Man (1984), Pee- 
Wee's Big Adventure (1985), The Toxic Avenger (1985), 
Hard Boiled (1992), and The Big Lebowski (1998). And 
while most of these movies seem to attract predominantly 



Cult Films 

male cults, female followings have grown up around 
fashion-conscious "chick flicks" like Valley of the Dolls 
(1967), the teen movie Clueless (1995), and the "anti- 
teen" movie Heathers (1989). 


Perhaps the first movies to develop cult followings were B 
movies — those quickly made, cheaply produced films 
that had their heyday in Hollywood's "Golden Age." B 
movies began to proliferate in the mid- 1930s, when 
distributors felt that "double features" might stand a 
chance of luring increasingly frugal Depression audiences 
back to the theaters. Their strategy worked — audiences 
of devoted moviegoers thrilled to cheap B movie fare like 
The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Face Behind the Mask 
(1941), Cobra Woman (1944), and White Savage (1943). 
Often (but not always) horror or science-fiction films, 
these movies were inexpensively produced and usually 
unheralded — except by their fans, who often found more 
to enjoy in these bottom-rung "guilty pleasures" than in 
the high-profile epics their profits supported. 

B movies were cheaply made, but were not necessa- 
rily poor in quality. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, 
however, a number of rather inept films were made that 
have subsequently developed substantial cult followings. 
The "trash" movie aesthetic was founded on an appreci- 
ation for these low-budget movies. Struggling with severe 
budgetary limitations, directors were regularly forced to 
come up with makeshift costuming and set design solu- 
tions that produced truly strange and sometimes uninten- 
tionally comic results. The trash aesthetic was later 
borrowed by underground filmmakers like Andy 
Warhol (1928-1987), Jack Smith (1932-1989), and 
the Kuchar Brothers (George [b. 1942] and Mike 
[b. 1942]), who also made their films in the cheapest 
possible way. 

Most of the original trash cinema failed miserably at 
the box office, and has developed a cult reputation only 
in retrospect, after being reappropriated by a later audi- 
ence with an eye for nostalgic irony. For the most part, 
the films were not products of the big Hollywood stu- 
dios; most of them were made independently, often 
targeted at the drive-in theater market, and some were 
made outside the United States. Such films include the 
Japanese monster epic Godzilla (1954) and its low- 
budget Danish imitation Reptilicus (1962), as well as 
shabby Boris Karloff^ vehicles like Die Monster Die 
(1965), and bizarre sexploitation films like The Wild 
Women ofWongo (1958). Today, many movie buffs are 
drawn to the camp, kitschy qualities of these movies — 
their minimal budgets, low production values, and appal- 
ling acting. Many such films were made by Roger 
Gorman (b. 1926), who originally specialized in quickie 

productions with low-budget resources and little com- 
mercial marketing, including Attack of the Crab Monsters 
(1957) and Creature fiom the Haunted Sea (1961). 
Gorman's place in cult film history is also assured by 
his unrivaled eye for talent; among the many notables 
who were employed by him at a very early stage in their 
careers are Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Goppola, 
Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, James Gameron, 
and Peter Bogdanovich. 

The unrivaled king of trash cinema was undoubtedly 
Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1924-1978), whose output- 
films like Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan 9 from 
Outer Space (1959) — are considered the nadir of naive 
charm. These movies have been much celebrated in 
retrospect because of their unique and endearing inepti- 
tude and for the implausibility of their premises. Like 
most other "bad" cult movies, Wood's films lack finesse 
and wit, but are loved by their fans for precisely this 
reason. Significantly, cults have also recently grown up 
around more contemporary "bad" movies. For example, 
almost immediately after the theatrical release of 
Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995), which recouped only 
half its $40 million cost, the film opened in Los Angeles 
and then in New York as a midnight cult movie. This 
phenomenon suggests that the cult movie aesthetic is not 
necessarily antithetical to the big-budget, mass-market 
mode of production nourished by the major Hollywood 

This crossover also raises the question of the distinc- 
tion between "cidt" and "camp." Generally speaking, 
camp began in the New York underground theater and 
film communities, and is a quality of the way movies are 
received, rather than a deliberate quality of the films 
themselves. Indeed, camp, according to critic Susan 
Sontag, is always the product of pure passion — on how- 
ever grand or pathetic a scale — somehow gone strangely 
awry. To be considered camp, it is not enough for a film 
to fail, or to seem dated, extreme, or freakish; there must 
be a genuine passion and sincerity about its creation. 
Gamp is based on a faith and emotion in the film that 
is shared by director and audience, often across the 
passage of time, contradicting the popular assumption 
that camp is concerned only with surfaces and the 

The two concepts — camp and cult — clearly overlap in 
a nimiber of ways, and many films develop cult followings 
because of their camp qualities. For example, many studio 
films have attracted a retrospective devotion through a 
process of reappropriation on the part of gay audiences. 
This is especially true of films that feature gay icons, like 
Joan Grawford, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, or Barbra 
Streisand, in particularly melodramatic or pathetic roles. 
Such films include Mildred Pierce (1945), The Best of 



Cult Films 

b. Poughskeepie, New York, 10 October 1924, 
d. Hollywood, California, 10 December 1978 

Often described as the "worst director in history," Wood's 
following has exploded since his death. For years, a small 
group of Ed Wood cultists treasured the two films that 
were commercially available — Glen or Glenda? (1953) and 
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) — without knowing much 
about the man himself. This all changed with the 
publication in 1992 of Rudolph Grey's reverent biography 
Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, 
Jr. and the release of Tim Burton's runaway success Ed 
Wood (1994), a dark comedy based on the life, times, and 
movies of the infamous director. 

Wood's cult status is due in part to his endearingly 
unorthodox personality and unusual openness about his 
sexual fetishes. A twice-married transvestite. Wood fought 
in World War II and claimed to have been wearing a bra 
and panties under his uniform during a military landing. 
His ventures into Hollywood moviemaking were ill-fated 
until, in 1953, he landed the chance to direct a film based 
on the Christine Jorgensen sex-change story. The result. 
Glen or Glenda?, gave a fascinating insight into Wood's 
own obsessive personality, and shed light on his 
fascination with women's clothing (an almost unthinkable 
subject for an early 1950s feature) by including the 
director's own plea for tolerance toward cross-dressers like 
himself. This surreal, cheap (though well over budget), 
and virtually incomprehensible film is notable for Bela 
Lugosi's role as a scientist delivering cryptic messages 
about gender directly to the audience. Neither Glen or 
Glenda? nor any of Wood's subsequent movies were 
commercially successful, but he continued to make films 
until failing health and financial need sent him into a 
physical and emotional decline. Grey's biography presents 
Wood in his later years as a moody alcoholic; sadly, the 

last period of his career, before his premature death at age 
54, was spent directing undistinguished soft, and later 
hardcore, pornography. 

Wood's films have been canonized by cultists as high 
camp, and continue to be adored for their charming 
ineptitude, startling continuity gaps, bad acting, and 
irrelevant stock footage. His best-known film is the 
infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space, which features aliens 
arriving on earth and attempting to conquer the planet by 
raising the dead. The film is notorious for its pathetic, 
illogical script, cardboard masonry, ridiculous "special 
effects," and the use of kitchen utensils as space helmets. It 
stars the heavily accented Swedish wrestler Tor Jonson and 
a drug-addled, terminally ill Bela Lugosi, who died during 
production and is sporadically replaced by a stand-in who, 
even with his cape drawn over his face, looks nothing at all 
like the decrepit Lugosi. The film also features the 
glamorous Finnish actress Maila Nurmi, better known as 
Vampira, generally believed to be the first late-night 
television horror hostess (and followed by many imitators, 
including the more successful Elvira, Mistress of the 
Dark) . Plan 9 from Outer Space contains the only surviving 
footage of Vampira, although she has no dialogue in the 


Glen or Glenda? (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), Night of 
the Ghouls (1959), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Ed 
Wood (1994), Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora (1994) 


Grey, Rudolph. Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of 
Edward D. Wood, Jr. Los Angeles: Feral House, 1992. 

Mikita Brottman 

Everything (1959), A Star is Bom (both the 1954 and 1976 
versions). Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and 
similar pictures that are considered by their fans to be 
especially mawkish, sentimental, overly serious, or too 
straight-faced. For example, the 1981 Joan Crawford 
biopic Mommie Dearest was almost immediately pro- 
claimed a camp masterpiece by Crawford's gay followers 
and hit the midnight circuit immediately after its first run. 

Other films have developed cult foUowings because 
of their unique presentation of new gimmicks or special 
effects. For example, Herschell Gordon Lewis's drive-in 
blockbuster Blood Feast (1963) has attained cult status 
partly because it was the first film to feature human 
entrails and dismembered bodies "in blood color." The 
films of William Castle (1914-1977) have attracted a 
cult following mainly because of their pioneering use of 



Cult Films 

low-budget publicity schemes and special effects, including 
"Percepto" (specially wired-up seats) for The Tingler 

(1959) ; "Emergo" (a cardboard skeleton on a wire hang- 
ing over the audience) for The House on Haunted Hill 
(1958); and "Illusion-O" (a 3-D viewer) for 13 Ghosts 

(1960) — although there are those who claim that Casde's 
most successful gimmick was his use of the hammy, 
smooth-voiced actor Vincent Price (1911-1993). In a 
similar way, John Waters's Polyester (1981) is a cult film 
pardy because of its use of "Odorama" (audience scratch- 
and-sniff cards), and Roger Vadim's Barbarella (1968) 
has achieved cult status mainly due to the extravagance of 
its costumes and sets, including Jane Fonda's thigh-high 
boots and fur-lined spaceship. 

There are also a number of iconic directors whose 
every movie has attained cult status, mainly because their 
films tend to replicate the same individual fascinations or 
pathologies. A good example is Russ Meyer (1922- 
2004), whose films are especially popular among those 
fans, both male and female, who share his obsession with 
buxom actresses engaged in theatrical violence. Most 

typical of the Meyer oeuvre is perhaps Faster, Pussycat! 
Kill! Kill! (1966), which features three leather-clad, 
voluptuous, thrill-seeking women in go-go boots. 

A different kind of cult movie is the film that has 
attracted curiosity because of the particular circumstances 
surrounding its release. Such films may have been banned 
in certain states, for example; they may have had con- 
troversial lawsuits brought against them, or they may 
have been associated with particularly violent crimes, like 
A Clockwork Orange (1971) or Taxi Driver (1976). Or 
they may be notoriously difficult to find, like Todd 
Haynes's Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), a 
study in celebrity and anorexia in the guise of a biopic 
performed by Barbie dolls. The movie was quickly taken 
off the market for copyright reasons, but has still man- 
aged to attract a substantial cult following. 

In other cases, films attain retrospective cult status 
because of the circumstances surrounding their produc- 
tion. For example. The Terror (1963) is a cult film partly 
because of Jack Nicholson's early appearance in a starring 
role, and Donovan's Brain (1953) gains cult status 



Cult Films 

because of the presence of the actress Nancy Davis, later 
to become better known as First Lady Nancy Reagan. 
Moreover, scandalous public disclosures that accumulate 
around actors or actresses inevitably give their films a 
certain amount of morbid cult interest. For example, in 
his Hollywood Babylon books (1975 and 1984), under- 
ground filmmaker Kenneth Anger (b. 1 927) keeps a toll 
of films involving one or more celebrities who eventually 
took their own lives, all of which have since come to 
attain an odd kind of cult status of their own. Anger also 
discusses "cursed" films that feature stars who died soon 
after production was completed — films like Rebel without 
a Cause (1955), starring James Dean, and The Misfits 
(1961), starring Marilyn Monroe. In cases like these, fans 
oftien enjoy subjecting the film to microscopic scrutiny in 
a search for telltale betrayals of bad health, signals of 
some emotional meltdown, portents of future tragedy, 
or innocently spoken words of irony, regardless of what 
else might be happening on screen. For example, parallels 
are often drawn between the death of James Dean in an 
automobile accident and the "chicken run" scene in 
Rebel without a Cause, in which Jim Stark (Dean) and 
his friend are driving two stolen cars toward the edge of a 
clilf; the first one to jump out is a "chicken." Jim rolls 
out at the last second, but his friend's coat sleeve is 
caught in the door handle, and he hurdes over the cliff 
to his death. In the aftermath, we hear Dean's anguished 
cry: "A boy was killed!" 


Many films now considered "cult movies" came to 
achieve this status through repeat screenings at independ- 
ent repertory cinemas, usually very late at night. Such 
films were cheaper for theaters to hire than current 
releases, often since their ownership had fallen into pub- 
lic domain. It became traditional, during the 1950s and 
60s, to begin showing these films at midnight, when 
audience attendance was lower, and sensibilities often less 
discriminating. However, the first movie to be "offi- 
cially" shown at a midnight screening was odd drama 
El Topo {The Mole, Alexandro Jodorosky, 1970), which 
was discovered by Ben Barenholtz, booker for the Elgin 
theater in New York, at a Museum of Modern Art 
screening. Barenholtz allegedly persuaded the film's dis- 
tributor to allow him to play it at midnight at the Elgin, 
because — as the poster announced — the film was "too 
heavy to be shown any other way." The disturbing film 
was a runaway success, and midnight premieres of offbeat 
movies eventually became (with varying degrees of suc- 
cess) a regular aspect of distribution, initially in New 
York and later elsewhere. The aim of the concept was 
to provide a forum for unusual, eccentric, or otherwise 
bizarre movies. The audience for these films generally 

tended to be those who were not averse to going out to 
see a film in the middle of the night — usually a younger 
group of urban movie fans not easily put off by uncon- 
ventional themes or scenes of drug use, nudity, or vio- 
lence. Indeed, many of the midnight movies that attained 
cult success did so because they transgressed various social 
taboos. For example, when its run had come to an end, 
El Topo was followed at the Elgin by Pink Flamingos 
(John Waters, 1972), which had late-night audiences 
lined up around the block. In fact, all of the films of 
John Waters eventually became staples of the midnight 
movie circuit, especially Polyester (1981) and Hairspray 
(1988), with their grotesque vignettes held together by 
the loosest of narratives and a bizarre cast of garish 
grandmothers and oddballs, generally led by the over- 
weight transvestite Divine. 

One of the most significant midnight movies was 
Eraserhead (1977), the nightmarish first film made by 
cult director David Lynch (b. 1946), which contained a 
series of disturbing images in a postapocalyptic setting. 
Lynch went on to make other movies that soon devel- 
oped cult followings, including Blue Velvet (1986) and 
Wild at Heart (1990), both filled with dark, odd, ambig- 
uous characters. Other important movies that gradually 
developed cult followings after years on the midnight 
circuit include Freaks (1932), Night of the Living Dead 
(1968), The Evil Dead (1981), and Re-Animator (1985). 

Essentially, the real key to the success of a midnight 
movie was the film's relationship with its audience and 
the slavish devotion of its fans. Perhaps the most success- 
ful midnight movie of all time was Rocky Horror Picture 
Show (1975), a low-budget film adaptation of Richard 
O'Brien's glam stage hit about two square lovebirds who 
enter the realm of an outrageous Gothic transsexual. A 
failure when it was first released, midnight screenings at 
the Waverly Theater in New York City quickly estab- 
lished Rocky Horror as an aberrant smash, starting a trend 
in audiences for interactive entertainment. As the film 
garnered a significant cult following over the late 1970s 
and early 1980s, audiences began to arrive at the theater 
dressed in costume, carrying various props to wave and 
throw in the aisles as they yelled responses to characters' 
lines and joined in singing and dancing to the musical 
numbers onscreen. 

VCR and DVD viewing, network and cable tele- 
vision, and pay-per-view stations have significantly 
changed the nature of cult film viewing. Many movies 
that failed to find an audience upon original theatrical 
release now often gain cult followings through video 
rentals and sales. Today, word-of-mouth popularity can 
lead a formerly obscure film to gain a whole new audi- 
ence on its video release, allowing it to earn considerably 
more in DVD sales than it did at the theater. 



Cult Films 

(From left) Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, and Susan Sarandon in the midnight cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show 



A film need not be offbeat, obscure, or low-budget to 
attain a cult following. On the contrary, a number of 
critically acclaimed movies have attained cult status pre- 
cisely because their high quality and skillful performan- 
ces, as well as their emotional power, have given them 
enduring appeal. These kinds of films are often described 
as "cult classics" because, while attracting a fiercely 
devoted band of followers, they are films that most main- 
stream audiences and critics have also praised and 
admired. Unlike ordinary cult movies, cult classics are 
often products of the big Hollywood studios, and most of 
them are made in the United States. Moreover, unlike 
many cult movies, cult classics are not weird, offbeat, or 
strange, but are often sentimental and heartwarming. 
They include such films as It's a Wonderful Life (1946), 
Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and The Wizard of Oz 
(1939). One of the most deeply loved of such films is 
Casablanca (1942), whose cult — or so legend has it — began 
in the early 1950s, when the Brattle Theater, adjoining 
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, held a 

regular "Bogart week," purportedly because the theater's 
student clientele so closely identified with Bogart's sense of 
style. The series was shown around final exam time, to 
bring the students some needed late-night relief from the 
stress of their studies, and it culminated with a screening of 

SEE ALSO B Movies; Camp; Fans and Fandom 


Anger, Kenneth. Hollywood Babylon. San Francisco: Straight 
Arrow, 1975. 

. Hollywood Babylon II. New York: Dutton, 1984. 

Brottman, Mikita. Hollywood Hex. London: Creation Books, 

Everman, Welch. Cult Horror Films. New York: Carol Publishing 
Group, 1993. 

Hoberman, J., and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Midnight Movies. New 
York: Harper and Row, 1983. 

Jancovich, Mark, Antonio Lazarro ReboUi, and Andy Willis, eds. 
Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional 



Cult Films 

Taste. Manchester and New York: Manchester University 
Press, 2003. 

Mendik, Xavier, and Graeme Harper, eds. Unruly Pleasures: The 
Cult Film and Its Critics. Surrey, UK: Fab Press, 2000. 

Peary, Danny. Cult Movies: The Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, 
and the Wonderful. New York: Gramercy Books, 1998. 

Sontag, Susan. "Notes on Camp." In Against Interpretation and 
Other Essays, 11 '^-l')!. New York: Deka, 1966. 

Stevenson, Jack. Land of a Thousand Balconies. Manchester, UK: 
Critical Vision, 2003. 

Telotte, J. P., ed. The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason. 
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. 

Vale, v., and Andrea Juno, eds. Incredibly Strange Films. San 
Francisco: RE/Search Books, 1986. 

Mikita Brottman 




Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918 following the break- 
up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. 
The Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia had been 
ruled from Vienna while Slovakia had formed part of 
Hungary. Despite close linguistic ties, this was the first 
time that the two nations had been linked for over a 
thousand years. Following the Munich conference of 
1938, when the country was forced to cede its German- 
speaking areas to Germany, Hitler encouraged the seces- 
sion of Slovakia, and Bohemia and Moravia were estab- 
lished as a Nazi protectorate following the German 
invasion of March 1939. 

The country was reunited in 1945, and became part 
of the Eastern bloc after the Communist coup of 1948. 
In the 1960s, there was an attempt to move beyond the 
dogmatic Stalinism of the 1950s, culminating in the 
Prague Spring of 1968. This attempt to combine social- 
ism and democracy was perceived as a threat to Soviet 
hegemony and resulted in the invasion of fellow Warsaw 
Pact countries in August of that year. This led to a 
repressive regime that was to last until the fall of 
Communism during the so-called "Velvet Revolution" 
of November 1989. The country split into the Czech and 
Slovak republics in 1993 after decisions taken within the 
political leaderships. It did not reflect popular opinion, 
which favored maintaining the union. 

Despite these political turmoils, the Czech cinema 
became an established part of the European mainstream 
in the 1920s and 1930s and has maintained a significant 
level of feature production throughout its subsequent 
development. Its history pre-dates the formation of the 
independent state of Czechoslovakia and there were 
also important precursors to the cinema. J. E. Purkyne 

(1787-1869) wrote on persistence of vision as early as 
1818 and, together with Ferdinand Durst, created the 
Kinesiscope in 1850. The first film producer in Austria- 
Hungary was the Czech photographer Jan Kfizenecky 
(1868-1921), who made his first films in 1898. His film 
Smtch a plac {Laughter and Tears, 1898), with the actor 
Josef Svab-Malostransky miming the two emotions, 
could almost summarize international perceptions of 
the defining characteristics of Czech cinema (based on 
such films as the 1966 Ostre sledovane vlaky [Closely 
Watched Trains]). 


A permanent film theater was opened in Prague in 1907 
by the conjuror Ponrepo and regular film production 
began in 1910. By the beginning of World War I, over 
a third of the cinemas in Austria-Hungary were based in 
the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Lucernafilm 
was established in Prague in 1915 by Vaclav Havel, 
grandfather of the future president Vaclav Havel; while 
other companies, including Weteb, Excelsior, Praga, and 
Poja, followed at the end of the war. Czech cinema's first 
international success was Karel Degl's Stavitel chramu 
{The Builder of the Cathedral, 1919) while the first 
Slovak feature, Jaroslav Siakel's Janosik, was made in 
1921 with US financing. 

The first important studio was founded by the 
American and Biografia company (the A-B Company) 
in 1921, and the actor-director Karel Lamac established 
the Kavalirka studios in 1926, where some of the most 
important films were made before 1929, when they were 
destroyed by fire. Despite strong competition from the 




German and US cinemas, feature production in the silent 
period averaged over twenty-six (Czech) features and was 
marked by both artistic and commercial success. Lamac 
directed a successful adaptation of Jaroslav Hasek's comic 
anti-war novel Dobry vojdk Svejk ( The Good Soldier Svejk) 
in 1926, which was followed by three silent sequels: Svejk 
na fronte {Svejk at the Front, 1926), directed by Lamac, 
Svejk V ruskem zajeti {Svejk in Russian Captivity, 1926), 
directed by Svatopluk Innemann; and Svejk v civilu 
{Svejk in Civilian Life, 1927), directed by Gustav 
Machaty. In partnership with his then-wife Anny 
Ondra (1902-1987), who appeared in Alfred 
Hitchcock's The Manxman and Blackmail (both 1929), 
Lamac formed a successful team that achieved interna- 
tional success in the French, Austrian, and German cin- 
ema, although they transferred their production base to 
Berlin in 1930. 


Gustav Machaty (1901-1963) was the most ambitious 

"art" director of the period, and attracted attention with 
his Expressionist-influenced adaptation of Tolstoy's 
Kreutzerova sonata {The Kreutzer Sonata, 1926). He 
enjoyed a big success with Erotikon (1929), which was 
consolidated by his first two sound films, Ze soboty na 
nedeli {From Saturday to Sunday, 1931) and, especially, 
Extase {Ecstasy, 1932), winner of the Best Direction Prize 
at the Venice Film Festival in 1934, which introduced 
Hedy Kiesler (Lamarr) (1913-2000) to world audiences 
and was sold to over twenty-six countries. The success of 
Ecstasy was followed by an MGM contract and film work 
in Italy and Austria. However, he was able to complete 
only one Hollywood A-feature {Jealousy, 1945), which 
was scripted by Dalton Trumbo, and was primarily 
employed on second unit work. The poetic lyricism of 
Machaty's style did much to establish the tradition of 
lyrical cinematography that continued through to the 
post- World War II period. One of his key collaborators 
was the photographer and avant-garde director Alexandr 
Hackenschmied (Alexander Hammid) (1907-2004), 
who directed the experimental Bezucelnd prochdzka 
{Aimless Walk, 1930), and later, in the United States, 
made documentaries, and co-directed films with Herbert 
Kline and Maya Deren. 

The introduction of sound raised the question of the 
viability of Czech language production for a population 
of only 15 million. But while only eight features were 
produced in 1930, the average had risen to over forty by 
the end of the decade. The Barrandov film studios were 
built in 1932-1933 with the intention of attracting 
international production (which finally happened in the 
1990s), but developed in the 1930s mainly as a center for 

national production, following growth in the domestic 

Martin (Mac) Fric, whose career extended from the 
1920s to the 1960s, made some of his most important 
films in the 1930s, including work with such leading 
comic actors as Vlasta Burian (1891-1962), Hugo Haas 
(1901-1968), and Oldfich Novy. Perhaps most notable 
was his collaboration with the theatrical team of Jin 
Voskovec and Jan Werich (1905-1980), whose 
Osvobozene divadlo (The Liberated Theatre) was a cul- 
tural phenomenon. Their musical satires and parodies, 
described by the eminent linguist Roman Jakobson as 
"pure humour and semantic clowning," took a political 
turn in the face of economic depression and the rise of 
Nazism. After appearing in Paramount's all-star revue 
Paramount on Parade (1930), they made four feature 
films, including two by Fric — Hej-Rup! {Heave Hoi, 
1934) and Svet patft nam {The World Belongs to Us, 
1937). The former deals with the destruction of a corrupt 
capitalist at the hands of a workers collective while in the 
latter, Voskovec and Werich (V +W) defeat a Hitler-like 
demagogue and his big-business supporters with the help 
of the workers. 

Both The World Belongs to Us and the film version of 
Karel Capek's anti-Fascist play Btld nemoc {The White 
Sickness, 1937), directed by Haas, were the subject of 
Nazi protests and were suppressed following the 
German invasion of March 1939. Voskovec and Werich 
spent the war years in the United States, where Voskovec 
eventually setded and, as George Voskovec, became a 
successful Broadway actor as well as appearing in a num- 
ber of Hollywood films. Hugo Haas also left for 
Hollywood, where he played cameo roles and directed a 
sequence of B features, three of them based on Czech 

Other Czech directors to attract attention during the 
1930s included Josef Rovensky (1894-1937) {Reka [The 
River, 1933]) and Otakar Vavra, who moved from exper- 
imental shorts to features in 1937. His 1938 film Cech 
panen kutnohorskych { The Guild ofKutna Hora Maidens) 
won an award at Venice but was banned during the 
Occupation. Slovak feature film production was not to 
develop further until after the war, but Karel Plicka's Zem 
spieva {The Earth Sings, 1933), a feature-length record of 
Slovak folk culture edited by Alexandr Hackenschmied, 
attracted international attention when it was screened at 
Venice in 1934. 

Following the Western allies' capitulation to Hitler 
at the Munich conference over the Sudetenland 
(Czechoslovakia's German-speaking areas), the Germans 
invaded in March 1939 and the Czech lands became the 
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Under "clerico- 
Fascist" leadership, Slovakia declared independence 




immediately. The Germans took a controlling stake in 
the Barrandov studios and issued a list of prohibited 
subjects, eventually extending the studios as an alternative 
center for German production. Although Czech produc- 
tion declined from forty features in 1938 to nine in 
1944, a number of leading directors, including Vavra 
and Martin Fric, continued to make films. 

The Czech star Lida Baarova, -who had been signed 
up by the German film studio Ufa (Universum Film 

Aktiengesellschaft) in 1934 and had a well-known affair 
with Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, saw 
all of her films banned in Germany due to Hitler's anger 
at the scandal, but continued to work in Czech films. She 
finally returned to Czechoslovakia in 1938, making some 
of her best films in the late 1930s, including four for 
Vavra, who directed her in Panenstvt {Virginity, 1937) 
and Dtvka v modrem {The Girl in Blue, 1939). The Nazis 
expelled her from the Czech studios in 1941 and she 
continued her career in Italy. A group including Vavra 
planned the nationalization of the film industry after the 
war, a goal achieved in 1945, along with the establish- 
ment of the Koliba studios in Bratislava (Slovakia), and 
the foundation of the Prague Film School (FAMU) in 
1946. Czech films again attracted international attention 
when Karel Steklys (1903-1987) Sirena {The Strike, 
1947) and Jifi Trnka's feature-length puppet film 
Spalicek {The Czech Year, 1947) won awards at Venice. 

Following the Communist takeover in 1948, there 
was a fairly swift adherence to the moribund formulae of 
Stalinist cinema, particularly in the period 1951-1955, 
combined with another decline in production. However, 
as the novelist Josef Skvorecky (b. 1924) once put it, 
artistic common sense always gnawed at the formulae of 
Socialist Realism, and filmmakers sought ways of 
expanding beyond official limitations. It was at this time 
that the Czech cinema achieved international reputation 
in the field of animation. Jifi Trnka, Karel Zeman 
(1910-1989), Hermina Tyrlova, Bfetislav Pojar, Jifi 
Brdecka, and many others led the way, with features from 
Trnka {Stare povesti ceske [Old Czech Legends, 1953], Sen 
noci svatojanske [A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1959]) 
and from Zeman {Cesta do praveku I A Journey to 
Primeval Times, 1955, Vynalez zkazylyAn Invention for 
Destruction, 1958), who eventually made nine feature 
animation films. Many early films with an explicit Left 
orientation were clearly honest and committed, particu- 
larly before 1948. The Strike, a collective statement by 
the pre-war Left avant-garde, was one example and 
Vavra's Nema barikada {Silent Barricade, 1 949) about 
the Prague uprising, although simplified, was another. 
Vstanou novi bojovnici {New Heroes Will Arise, 1950), by 
Jifi Weiss, gave a committed account of the early years of 
the labor movement. 

Weiss had started to make documentaries before the 
war and had spent the war years in Britain where, besides 
working with the British documentary school, he made 
his first fiction films. On his return, he made an impres- 
sive film about the Munich crisis, Uloupena hranice {The 
Stolen Frontier, 1947) and won international awards with 
Vict jama {The Wolf Trap, 1957) and Romeo, Julie a tma 
{Romeo, Juliet, and Darkness, 1960), notable for their 
psychological depth and dramatic visual style. Another 
director who began in pre-war documentary was Elmar 
Klos (1910-1993), who began a long-term collaboration 
with the Slovak Jan Kadar in 1952. A sequence of chal- 
lenging films culminated in the first Czech (and Slovak) 
Oscar®-winner, Obchod na korze {The Shop on Main 
Street, 1965). After the Soviet invasion of 1968, Kadar 
emigrated to the United States, where his films included 
an adaptation of Bernard Malamud's The Angel Levine 
(1970) and the award-winning Canadian film Lies My 
Father Told Me (1975). Weiss also emigrated to the 
United States but made no films until the German- 
produced Martha undlch {Martha and I, 1990). 


In the late 1950s, a number of new feature directors 
made their debuts, including Frantisek Vlacil, and early 
FAMU graduates such as Vojtech Jasny, Karel Kachyria, 
and the Slovak, Stefan Uher. In a world in which 
criticism of Stalinism was forbidden, they found their 
inspiration in the visual traditions of Czech lyricism and 
in broad humanist subject matter. Although little known 
to international audiences, they were to make some of the 
most significant films of the 1960s. In the 1990s, Czech 
critics voted Vlacil's historical epic Marketa Lazarova 
(1967) the best Czech film ever made and Jasnys 
Vsichni dobfi rodaci {All My Good Countrymen, 1968), 
which dealt with the collectivization of agriculture, was to 
prove one of the most politically controversial films of 
the Prague Spring. In 1990, Kachyfia's Ucho {The Ear, 
1970) still impressed at the Cannes Film Festival when it 
premiered after a twenty-year ban. 

Slovak cinema, which enjoyed a separate — if inter- 
active — existence after 1945, saw the development of a 
number of significant talents after the production of Palo 
Bielik's film Vlcie diery {Wolves' Lairs, 1948), about the 
Slovak National Uprising of 1944. The most notable 
were probably Peter Solan (b. 1929) and Stanislav 
Barabas. Uher, who began his career in 1961, paved the 
way for the innovative developments of the 1960s with 
his Slnko V sieti {Sunshine in a Net, (1962), which com- 
bined lyricism with significant narrative innovation. 

It was against the lyrical humanist background of the 
late 1950s-early 1960s that the Czech New Wave made 
its debut in 1963 with Milos Forman's Cemy Petr {Black 




b. Cdslav, Czechoslovakia, 2 February 1932 

Milos Forman is one of the major directors of the Czech 
New Wave. He studied screenwriting at the Prague Film 
School (FAMU), and made his debut as writer/director 
with Konkurs ( Talent Competition) and Cerny Petr (Black 
Peter) in 1963. In collaboration with his colleagues Ivan 
Passer and Jaroslav Papousek, who subsequently became 
directors themselves, he developed a style of semi- 
improvised film making that used non-professional actors 
and focused on everyday life. This apparently accidental 
discovery of reality — a world of dance halls, canteens, and 
run-down flats — was, he argued, a reaction against the 
false and idealized images promoted by the official cinema. 

His next two films, Lasky jedne plavovlasky (Loves of a 
Blonde, 1965) and Hon, ma panenko (The Firemen's Ball, 
1967), were both Oscar®-nominated. The Firemen 's Ball, 
the comic story of how a local fire brigade fails in its 
attempts to organize both a raffle and a beauty 
competition, was interpreted, even at script stage, as a 
satire on the Communist Party. In 1973, following the 
Soviet invasion of 1968, it was listed as one of the four 
Czech films to be banned "forever." 

It was his last Czech film, and Forman was working 
on the script of his first American film in Paris in 1 968 
when the Soviet invasion took place. He remained abroad 
and became a US citizen in 1977. Taking Ojf(\97\) 
continued the improvised, group-centered approach of his 
Czech films but, despite festival success, did not succeed 
with American audiences. He subsequently chose to work 
with preexisting themes from his adopted culture and not 
to write his own original screenplays. 

His subsequent American films — frequently compared 
adversely with his Czech ones, although they won him two 
Best Director Oscars® — reveal, in fact, a decidedly off-center 
portrait of American life. They include adaptations of Ken 

Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975); E. L. 
Doctorow (Ragtime, 1981); the James Rado-Gerome 
Ragni— Gait McDermott musical Hair (1979); and, more 
recendy, collaborations with screenwriters Scott Alexander 
and Larry Karaszewski in their continuing gallery of 
American eccentrics (The People vs. Larry Flynt, 1996; Man 
on the Moon, 1999). Forman based himself in New York 
rather than Hollywood and his subjects always have had an 
intrinsic interest and have been treated in sophisticated ways. 
His two "European" projects, the multiple Academy 
AsN3sA®-yi\nn&[ Amadeus (1984), from the play by Peter 
Schaffer, which was made in Prague, and Valmont (1989), 
an adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons 
Dangereuses, made in France, were also his most elaborate. In 
both, he treated his heroes — Mozart and his wife and the 
sexual predators of Valmont — pretty much like the young 
innocents of his early Czech films. 


Black Peter (1963), Loves of a Blonde (1965), The Firemen's 
Ball (1967), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), 
Amadeus (1984), Valmont (1989) 


Forman, Miles, and Jan Novak. Turnaround: A Memoir. New 
York: Villard Books, 1994. 

Hames, Peter. "Forman." In Five Filmmakers: Tarkovsky, 
Forman, Polanski, Szaho, Makavejev, edited by Daniel J. 
Goulding. Bioomington: Indiana University Press, 

Liehm, Antonin J. The Milos Forman Stories. White Plains, 
NY: International Arts and Sciences Press, 1975. 

. "Milos Forman: the Style and the Man." In Politics, 

Art, and Commitment in the East European Cinema, edited 
by David W. Paul. London: Macmillan, and New York, 
St. Martin's, 1983. 

Peter Hames 

Peter), Vera Chytilova's O necem jinem {Something 
Different), and Jaromil Jires's Kfik {The Cry). Ail three 
films addressed the problems of everyday life, with 
cinema-verite a key influence on Forman and Chytilova. 
While the emphasis on the look of everyday life heralded 
movement in a new direction, the New Wave rapidly 
escaped any particular stylistic form in favor of a diversity 
of output that also comprised lyricism, critical realism, 

and the avant-garde. Other directors who emerged in the 
mid- to late- 1960s have been seen as "New Wave," 
including Jan Nemec (Demanty noci [Diamonds of the 
Night, 1964], O slavnosti a hostech [Report on the Party 
and the Guests, 1966]); Pavel Juracek and Jan Schmidt 
(b. 1934) {Postava k podpirdnt [Josef Kilidn, 1963]); Evald 
Schorm (Kazdy den odvahu [Everyday Courage, 1964], 
Ndvrat ztraceneho syna [Return of the Prodigal Son, 




Milos Forman during production of One Flew Over the 
Cuckoo's Nest (1975). everett collection, reproduced 


1966]); Ivan Passer (b. 1933) (Intimnt osvhleni [Intimate 

Lighting, 1965]); Hynelc Bocan {Nikdo se nebude smat 
[No Laughing Matter, 1965], Soukroma vichfice [Private 
Hurricane, 1967]); and Jin Menzel {Closely Watched 
Trains, 1966], Rozmarne leto [Capricious Summer, 
1967], Skfivanci na niti [Skylarks on a String, 1969]). 
Closely Watched Trains was to prove the second Czech 
Oscar®-winner in 1967. 

Criticism of the system tended to be obhque prior 
to 1968, when the reform Communism of the Prague 
Spring effectively abolished censorship but continued to 
fund its filmmakers. Nonetheless, there were some 
powerful works even before this. A director of the older 
generation, Ladislav Helge (b. 1927), made some strong 
internal criticisms with his film Skola otcu {School for 
Fathers, 1957), about a teacher fighting a battle against 
hypocrisy masked by ideological correctness. Evald 
Schorm's (1931—1988) debut feature Everyday Courage 
focused on a Party activist who sees his image of cer- 
tainty collapsing around him, while in Return of the 
Prodigal Son he examined the case of an attempted 
suicide, linking it explicitly to issues of conscience and 

The realist and humorous approach of directors like 
Forman and Passer was supplemented by Juracek's and 
Schmidt's Kafkaesque analysis of bureaucracy in fosef 
Kilian, Nemec's absurdist portrait of power in Report on 
the Party and the Guests, and Forman's farce, Hori, ma 
panenko {The Firemen's Ball, 1967), in which his aging 
firemen's inability to organize anything was inevitably 
interpreted as a somewhat broader parable. Avant-garde 
and experimental traditions began to emerge in the late 
1960s with the influence of Poetism (Nemec's Mucednici 
lasky [Martyrs of Love, 1966]); Dadaism (Chytilova's 
Sedmikrasky [Daisies, 1966]); and Surrealism 0ires's 
Valerie a tyden divu [Valerie and her Week of Wonders, 

The Slovak Wave of the late 1960s shared a similarly 

radical approach to form. Dusan Hanak's 322 (1969) 
was a bleak and powerful allegory of contemporary life 
while directors such as Juraj Jakubisko (b. 1938) 
{Zbehovia a putnici [The Deserter and the Nomads, 
1968]) and Elo Havetta (1938-1975) {Slavnosi v bota- 
nickej zahrade [The Party in the Botanical Garden, 1969]) 
used folk inspiration in a way that looked forward to the 
work of Emir Kusturica, who graduated from FAMU ten 
years later. 

The Czech and Slovak New Waves undoubtedly 
contributed to the political reform movement of the 
1960s, and formed part of the Prague Spring attempts 
to combine democracy and Socialism — in effect, glasnost 
twenty years before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev 
initiated the reforms that led to the end of the Cold 
War. The Warsaw Pact invasion and suppression of these 
earlier reforms led, perhaps inevitably, to the banning of 
writers, artists, and filmmakers. Over 100 films were 
banned, and Forman, Passer, Kadar, Weiss, Jasny, 
Nemec, and Barabas went into exile. Helge, Schorm, 
and Juracek found their film careers at an end while 
others were forced into compromises with the regime. 


The period between 1970 and 1989, that of so-called 
"normalization," was, despite substantial production, a 
relative lowpoint in the history of Czech and Slovak film, 
as it was in cultural life in general. Following the inva- 
sion, it has been estimated that over 170,000 people left 
the country and that 70,000 were expelled from the 
Communist Party. The heads of the Barrandov and 
Koliba studios were sacked and the films of the "wave" 
were condemned as expressions of petty bourgeois 

The new films of the 1970s were almost devoid of 
substantive content. Simplified moral tales and teenage 
love stories were the order of the day. Nonetheless, 
directors such as Kachyna, Jires, Vlacil, and Uher walked 




MilosForman's parodic Firemen's Ball (1967). EVERETT collection, reproduced by permission. 

the tightrope with a certain measure of success. Menzel, 
who returned to filmmaking in 1975, and Chytiiova, 
who returned in 1976, kept ahve some of the quahties 
of the New Wave — Menzel with his adaptations from 
Hrabal, which included Postfiziny {Cutting it Short, 
1980), and Chytiiova with a number of critically abra- 
sive films such as Hra o jablko {The Apple Game, 1976) 
and Panelstory {Prefab Story, 1979). Menzel even gained 
an Oscar® nomination for Vesnicko ma stfediskova 
{My Sweet Little Village, 1985). But the regime was not 
interested in promoting its more interesting projects, 
preferring to champion propagandistic epics to an unin- 
terested world film community. 

It was against this background that the striking 
animated films of the surrealist Jan Svankmajer made 
their appearance (although he had been making films 
since the early 1 960s) . Largely suppressed by the author- 
ities, his work finally emerged at the Annecy Animation 
Festival in 1983 and he was subsequently to make his 
first feature, Neco z Alenky {Alice, 1987), as a Swiss- 
British-German co-production. By the end of the 

1980s, it was often alleged that the problems for cinema 
were less those of censorship than an absence of good 
scripts, the talent needed for their creation having been 
lost through years of both enforced and semi-voluntary 
compromise. Nonetheless, prior to the Velvet Revolution 
of November 1989 and the fall of Communism, it had 
been decided to release the banned films (although only a 
few, including The Shop on Main Street and The Firemen 's 
Ball, had appeared before November) and more challeng- 
ing work had began to appear from directors such as 
Zdenek Tyc (b. 1956) {Vojtech, feceny sirotek [Vojtech, 
Called Orphan, 1989]) and Irena Pavlaskova (b. 1960) 
{Cas sluhi. [The Time of the Servants, 1989]). 

The fall of Communism did not lead to a sudden 
cinematic rebirth. The nationalized industry was disman- 
tled in 1993 (although the process had begun earlier) and 
the Barrandov studios have been largely given over to 
American and other foreign producers, with domestic 
producers excluded by cost. Government subsidy was 
virtually removed (unlike the subsidies in Poland and 
Hungary) and, until 2004, the burden of production fell 




mainly upon the public service Ceska televize (Czech 
Television), with a consequent emphasis on low budget 
production. The New Wave did not bounce back, 
although Nemec returned from exile and has made some 
interesting low budget films (notably Nocni hovory s 
matkou [Late Night Talks with Mother, 2001]) and 
Drahomira Vihanova made her second feature film, 
Pevnost {The Fortress, 1994), after a twenty-year hiatus. 
Menzel withdrew to theater for ten years rather than face 
the problems of production in an underfunded industry. 

But, despite everything, the Czech industry survived 
and, in the mid- to late- 1990s, a number of younger 
directors again attracted international attention. They 
included Jan Sverak, who won an Oscar® with his 
Kolya (Kolja, 1996), Petr Zelenka {Knofltkafi [Buttoners, 
1997]), Sasa Gedeon (Navrat idiota [Return of the Idiot, 
1999]), David Ondncek {Samotafi [Loners, 2000]), and 
Alice Nellis {Ene bene [Eeny meeny, 2000]). Jan Hrebejk's 
Musime sij)omahat {Divided We Fall, 2000) and Ondfej 
Trojan's Zelary (2004) were also Oscar®-nominated, and 
Svankmajer produced a sequence of four features, includ- 
ing Lekce Faust {Faust, 1994) and Otesanek {Little Otik, 
2001). Kolya' s bittersweet story of an unemployed musi- 
cian and his relationship with a 5-year-old Russian 
enjoyed an international box office success and many of 
the films, echoing the "new wave," focussed on the 
"small" events of everyday life. Svankmajer pursued his 
course of "militant surrealism" while Zelenka exhibited 
an original line in black humor. Both Divided We Fall 
and Zelary were set during World War II. Hrebejk's film 
told the ironic story of a Czech man who hides a Jewish 
refugee during the war. He arranges for the Jewish man 
to make his wife pregnant in order to avoid sharing his 
flat with a Nazi bureaucrat. The existence of a strong film 
culture and tradition seemed to have transcended the 
government's post-Communist view of film culture-as- 

The breakup of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and 
Slovak republics in 1992-1993 has favored Slovakia 
somewhat less. Compared with Czech production of 

fifteen to twenty films a year (thirty-two in 1990), 
Slovak production dropped to an average of two films a 
year in the late 1990s (compared with twelve in 1990). A 
number of directors made their debuts, but only one, 
Martin Sulik, was able to establish a body of work, with a 
sequence of five films including Zahrada {The Garden, 
1995) and Krajinka {Landscape, 2000). Like those of 
other Slovak directors, they showed a folk inspiration, 
but their mood is reflective and exhibits a subdued mel- 
ancholy. He is arguably the sole "auteur" to have estab- 
lished himself in the Czech and Slovak cinemas since 

SEE ALSO National Cinema 


Hames, Peter. "Czechoslovakia: After the Spring. "PorfA^w Wave 
Cinema in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, edited by 
Daniel J. Goulding. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 

. The Czechoslovak New Wave. 2nd ed. London, 

Wallflower Press, 2005. 

, ed. The Cinema of Central Europe. London: Wallflower 

Press, 2004. 

, ed. Dark Alchemy: The Films of Jan Svankmajer. 

Westport, CT: Greenwood Press/Praeger, 1995. 

lordanova, Dina. Cinema of the Other Europe: The Industry and 
Artistry of East Central European Film. London: Wallflower 
Press, 2003. 

Liehm, Antoni'n J. Closely Watched Films: The Czechoslovak 
Experience. White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences 
Press, 1974. 

Liehm, Mira, and Antonm J. Liehm, The Most Important Art: 
East European Film Afier 1945. Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1977. 

Skvorecky, Josef. All the Bright Young Men and Women: A 

Personal History of the Czech Cinema. Toronto: Peter Martin 
Associates, 1971. 

Peter Hames 




The arts of movement and of the moving image have co- 
existed since the late 19th century. They fill each other's 
most important needs. Film documents movement. For 
early forms of pre-cinema and film, dance provided proof 
of movement. Dancers and choreographers saw film as a 
solution to the ephemeral nature of movement. The art 
forms were disappointed by the other for various rea- 
sons — both technological and artistic — so they have had 
to negotiate ways to coexist and collaborate over the 
century. Concert, ballet, and vaudeville dancers appeared 
in dozens of early films. But, as narrative became the 
principle focus on film, dance took a subsidiary role, 
providing entertainment and an occasional dream 

Some concert (early modern) dancers experimented 
with cuing music simultaneous to filmed performance, 
but, for the most part, silent film did not meet their 
needs for either documentation or creative collaboration. 
Sound technology appeared at the period in which the 
early modern dance vocabularies and structure were 
developing in America and Germany. But the new 
dancers' emphasis on weighted movements and philo- 
sophical leanings to the left saw little in common with 
Hollywood and they couldn't afford their own equip- 
ment. The avant garde of American dance waited until 
the 1940s to discover the artistic possibilities of film. 
Since the 1950s, all forms of dance have used film to 
document the rehearsal process and choreography. As 
dance became more and more abstract and non-narrative, 
it found colleagues in experimental film. Filmmakers and 
choreographers have worked together to create experi- 
mental projects. For the most part, the dance world 
ignored film as an artistic partner until the 1940s. 

Although dance as film has never been as popular in 
the United States as in Europe, there are now annual 
dance film festivals and screening series in urban centers 
and university programs. 


Dance was featured in late pre-cinema and early film 
because it showed movement in human scale. Among 
the earliest films — nickelodeons, Mutoscopes, and other 
mechanical projections — are dozens of studio films pro- 
duced by Thomas Edison showing social or musical- 
comedy dance performances, ranging from Annabelle 
(Moore) (1878—1961) twirling her skirts, in imitation 
of another dancer of the period, Loie Fuller (1862- 
1928), in Annabelle Butterfly Dance (1894) to the Cake 
Walk series (1897—1903). Edison also filmed well-known 
vaudeville stars, such as Dave Montgomery and Fred 
Stone (who played the Tin Man and the Scarecrow in 
the 1903 Broadway musical version of The Wizard of 
Oz), as examples of eccentric dance. Early narrative films 
set the pattern for using social dance to indicate period or 
social class. The first full-length extant films to feature 
dancers were both made in 1915: The Whirl of Life, 
starring and based on the lives of the ballroom dancers 
Irene (1893-1964) and Vernon Castle (1887-1918), 
integrated their specialty, the Castle walk, into the plot. 
The Dumb Girl of Portici, Lois Weber's version of the 
opera Maisannello, or La Muette di Portici, starring the 
great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), did 
the same with ballet. 

In the 1920s feature films frequently used social dance 
to depict chronology. Present tense or contemporary 



scenes were signaled by fast couple dances such as the 
Charleston or black bottom performed by dissolute 
youths. Films starring "It" girl Clara Bow (1905-1965) 
were enormously popular, and Our Dancing Daughters 
(1928) was the film that made Joan Crawford (1904- 
1977) a star. Slower contemporary social dances were 
used to show romantic situations. Dance as mise-en-scene 
was expanded to accommodate experiments with narra- 
tive structure. The past was signaled with historical 
movement, from the Denishawn troupe performing on 
the Babylon steps in Intolerance, to social dances from the 
minuet to the waltz. Directors relied on dance to signal 
shifts caused by their use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, 
and dream sequences. The contemporary, Amazon, and 
classical sequences in Man, Woman, Marriage (1921), 
staged by Marion Morgan, are memorable examples of 
period dance as atmosphere. A famous scene is the dance 
in a dirigible, developed by Theodore Kosloflf (1882- 

1956), LeRoy Prinz (1895-1983), and Cecil B. DeMille 
(1881-1959), in DeMiUe's Madam Satan (1930). 


Studios' early experiments with sound tended to imitate 
Broadway or Prologs, vaudeville shows at motion picture 
palaces. Among the featured dance acts were precision 
tap lines, ethnic (called "character") dances, adagio or 
exhibition ballroom work, and such eccentric work as rag 
doll dances. Examples of all four can be seen in The King 
of Jazz (1930), the finale of which features successive 
episodes of ethnic dancers representing immigrants as 
they march into an onscreen melting pot. 

As Hollywood relaxed into sound technology, dance 
directors developed a new structure for dance-based rou- 
tines. As exemplified by Busby Berkeley's films for 
Warner Bros., the routines opened on a traditional stage 




Fayard Nicholas, b. Mobile, Alabama, 20 October 1914, d. 24 January 2006 
Harold Nicholas, b. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 27 March 1921, d. 3 July 2000 

The extraordinary acrobatic dancing of the Nicholas 
Brothers enhvened musical films in the 1940s, and 
offscreen they were also considered one of the best tandem 
tap teams of the century with major careers in musical 
theater. The children of pit orchestra musicians, they were 
influenced by the up-tempo early jazz of Louis Armstrong 
and Fletcher Henderson. Both were coached by 
performers on the black vaudeville circuit who appeared at 
their parents' theater in Philadelphia. They adopted the 
tandem tap style, then epitomized by Buck and Bubbles, 
emphasizing synchronization of movements in 
complicated rhythms. They ended with "flash" sequences, 
including their signature leaps over each other in full, 
stretched-out side splits. They moved to New York and 
appeared in revues at Harlem's hottest nightclub, the 
Cotton Club, through the 1930s, where they were 
influenced by both the music and the personal style of 
Cotton Club orchestra leaders Cab Calloway and Duke 

Like Calloway and Ellington, they were featured in 
shorts, soundies, and early sound films, including 
Vitaphone shorts such as Pie, Pie Blackbird (1932), 
featuring the composer Eubie Blake, and the Eddie Cantor 
comedy Kid Millions (1934). Their Hollywood roles were 
sequences in feature films that could be cut for the 
segregated markets in the South. They worked with 
Cotton Club dance directors Nick Castle and Geneva 
Sawyer, who had relocated to Twentieth Century Fox for a 
series of seven backstage musicals featuring jazz. In each 
film the brothers added spatial elements to the tandem and 
flash dances. They enlivened their splits sequence in 

Orchestra Wives (with the Glen Miller Orchestra, 1942) by 
adding runs up walls and flipping over themselves and 
each other. Their best-remembered variation is in the 
black all-star revue Stormy Weather (1943): in tribute to 
co-star Bill Robinson, whose specialty was tapping up and 
down staircases, the Nicholas Brothers restaged their 
signature moves down successive stairs. 

They continued to tour with jazz ensembles, moving 
from the big band sound to bebop, and to appear on stage, 
notably in the musical St. Louis Woman in 1946. Harold 
Nicholas appeared as an actor in Uptown Saturday Night 
(1974) and other movie comedies. They received Kennedy 
Center honors in 1981 and are recognized as a major 
influence on later tap dancers such as Gregory Hines, 
Maurice Hines, and Savion Glover. The Nicholas 
Brothers, with the Copasetics and other greats of their 
generation, were featured in the documentary short 
Tapdancin' {199,1) and the feature film Tap (1989), and 
are the subjects of the documentary The Nicholas Brothers: 
We Sing and We Dance (1992). 


Pie, Pie Blackbird (1932), Kid Millions (1934), The Big 
Broadcast of 1936 (1935), Down Argentine Way (1940), 
Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Stormy Weather (1943), The 
Pirate (1948) 


Hill, Constance Valis. Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap 
Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 2000. 

Barbara Cohen-Stratyner 

but expanded into 360-degree effects possible only on a 
soundstage. Berkeley's first feature films were Samuel 
Goldwyn vehicles for the comedian Eddie Cantor 
(1892-1964), such as Roman Scandals (1933). In 1933 
he began his association with Warner Bros. /First 
National with 42nd Street. Based on a popular melodra- 
matic novel about a dying director staging a musical 
during the Depression, the film switched the focus to 
Ruby Keeler (1909-1993) as a spunky understudy and 

became a popular icon of the early sound era. Warner 
Bros, produced a cycle of comedies, featuring its contract 
character actors, singers, and dancers, about staging musi- 
cals during the Depression, including Gold Diggers of 
1933 (1933), with its Pig Latin "We're in the Money" 
opening, and Footlight Parade (1933). Apart from solos 
for Keeler, most of Berkeley's choreography is based on 
simple movements made by a large number of synchron- 
ized dancers, sometimes magnified by mirrors and cameras. 




Most are based on social dances or on tap dancing but 
are done on staircases. Mirrors and reflective floor sur- 
faces expanded black and white design schemes. All of 
Berkeley's work features his signature techniques — ani- 
mation, stage scenes that open up to huge sets, and 
prismatic overhead camera shots. 

Many of the Hollywood dance films of the 1930s 
and 1940s were film versions of popular modern-dress 
musicals, with dance sequences expanded rather than 
reimagined. The studios assigned their staff choreogra- 
phers and arrangers to the task, and the prevailing 
Hollywood style determined what reached the screen. 
Operettas, made popular by the singing film stars 
Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965) and Nelson Eddy 
(1901-1967), used social dance to set place and time. 

Vestiges of vaudeville and Broadway dance remained 
in the large number of films with backstage settings or 
with visits to the theater or nightclub built into the plot. 
The most prevalent style derived from live theater per- 
formance was the retention of the proscenium orienta- 
tion, with the action taking place as if on a stage and the 
camera standing in for the audience. Gene Kelly (1912- 
1996) never broke free of frontal performance but devel- 
oped many experiments to vary the form, such as his duet 
with Hanna-Barbera's animated mouse Jerry in Anchors 
Aweigh (1945), choreographed by Kelly and Stanley 
Donen (b. 1924). In "The King Who Couldn't 
Dance," Kelly teaches the cartoon mouse to tap. The 
setting is curtained like a stage set, with the throne in 
dead center. Following the pattern of a tap duet, he 
demonstrates steps, and the mouse repeats the move- 
ments, gradually dancing alongside and finally with 
him, bouncing off Kelly's biceps. 

A defining aspect of dance in films of the 1930s 
through 1950s was movement inspired by or growing 
out of walking. Many of Hermes Pan's (1909-1990) 
solos and duets for Fred Astaire (1899-1987) convey a 
naturalness by beginning with walking. Classic examples 
include the "Walking the Dog" and roller skating 
sequences in Shall We Dance (1937), and the stroll 
through Central Park with Cyd Charisse (b. 1921) that 
begins and ends "Dancing in the Dark" in The Band 
Wagon (1953). The most famous walking dance in film is 
performed by Gene Kelly to the title song in Singin' in 
the Rain (1952). 

Royal Wedding (1951) includes a classic pedestrian 
prop dance and two dances possible only on a sound- 
stage. In the first of two sequences danced onboard a 
ship, Astaire, one-half of a sister-brother dancing team, 
partners with a coat stand when his sister (Jane Powell) 
fails to show up for rehearsal. Their social dance number 
a few scenes later begins conventionally, but the perform- 
ance is converted into acrobatics when the ship encounters 

a storm. They attempt to dance, but when the floor 
begins to tip their steps are turned into slides. Later in 
the film, choreographed by Nick Castle, Astaire is danc- 
ing alone in his hotel room when he begins to push off 
against the wall. This movement usually signals flips off 
the wall (as in Donald O'Connor's "Be a Clown" num- 
ber in Singin' in the Rain), but instead, he taps his way up 
the wall and on to the ceiling. The magical effect was 
produced on a soundstage equipped with hydraulic lifts. 

Other memorable examples of pedestrian dances in 
film include the "garbage can" found percussion trio in 
It's Always Fair Weather (1955), choreographed by Gene 
Kelly; the Olympic team exercisers who ignore Jane Russell 
singing "Isn't Anyone Here for Love?" in Gentlemen Prefer 
Blondes (1953), choreographed by Jack Cole (1911-1974); 
and the rhythmic sawing and log splitting performed by the 
frustrated brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), 
choreographed by Michael Kidd (b. 1919). 

Surrealism was a second strong influence on chor- 
eographers for films of the 1940s and 1950s, with Jack 
Cole and Eugene Loring (1911-1982) at the forefront. 
Many dances featured moves for separated parts of the 
body, such as Loring's orchestra dance for The 5,000 
Fingers of Dr. T. (1953), written by Dr. Seuss. In 
Charles Walters's Easter Parade (1948), Ann Miller's 
(1923-2004) "Shaking the Blues Away" is famously 
accompanied by instrument-playing arms. 

Broadway choreographers were only occasionally 
hired to reproduce their work. Agnes de Mille (1905- 
1993) did the stage and film versions of Oklahoma! (on 
Broadway from 1943, but not filmed until 1955), but 
not Brigadoon (1954), although both had dance sequen- 
ces that were integral to the plot. Oklahoma's dream 
ballet, "Laurey Makes Up Her Mind," had already influ- 
enced many film choreographers by 1955. The French 
postcards that the villain Jud keeps in his shack come to 
life in her imagination as symbols of sexual depravity. 
The blank faces and angular movements of the "Post 
Card Girls" inspired Bob Fosse (1927-1987). Many 
directors and choreographers have copied or adapted 
empty soundstage with abstract clouds painted on the 
cyclorama for their dream sequences, most notably the 
"Gotta Dance" scene in Singin' in the Rain. Michael 
Kidd reproduced on film his movements for two highly 
stylized shows — the Damon Runyon gamblers in Guys 
and Dolls (1955), and the comic strip come-to-life, Li'l 
Ahner (1959). The King and I (1956) was filmed with 
Jerome Robbins's (1918-1998) "Siamese" dances intact, 
including the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" sequence. 
Robbins choreographed and co-directed West Side Story 
(1961), which scuttled the musical's dream ballets but 
kept the famous opening dance sequence. 




The Nicholas Brothers and Gene Kelly perform "Be a Clown" in The Pirate (Vincente Minnelli, 1948). EVERETT 


Dance reemerged in Hollywood with the disco era, 
through popular films such as Saturday Night Fever 

(1977) and its many imitators, and the 1950s-era musical 
Grease (1978), choreographed by Patricia Birch. The Wiz 

(1978) , choreographed by Louis Johnson (b. 1930), 
employed modern, tap, and jazz techniques, as well as 
club and break dancing around New York City locations. 
Dance was featured as atmosphere and plot material in 
La Boheme (1990), an Australian television production 
on which Baz Luhrmann (b. 1962) served as opera direc- 
tor, and Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Moulin Rouge 
(2001), directed by Luhrmann. The popular and critical 
successes of Moulin Rouge and Rob Marshall's (b. 1960) 
version of the Bob Fosse musical Chicago suggest that the 
musical is still a viable genre. 

There have been feature films about dance as a 
profession since the silent era. Most, like Rouben 
Mamoulian's Applause (1929), include performance as 

well as backstage scenes. Ballet films tend to be highly 
melodramatic, among them Michael Powell and Emeric 
Pressburger's influential The Red Shoes (1948), in which a 
ballerina torn between love and art commits suicide. Ben 
Hecht's forgotten Specter of the Rose (1946), and The 
Turning Point (1977), directed by Herbert Ross (1927— 
2001), a former ballet dancer and choreographer, are 
equally obsessed with the emotional hfe of dancers. AU 
three inspired their viewers to experience live performance. 
Similarly, art cinemas and university film societies made 
Soviet and French ballet films available in the 1960s and 
enlarged the audiences for touring ballet companies. 
Carlos Saura's Spanish collaborations with the flamenco 
choreographer Antonio Gades (1936-2004) — Bodas de 
sangre (1981), Carmen (1984), and El Amor hrujo 
(1986) — achieved great popularity in the United States. 

Fame (1980), based on New York City's High 
School of the Performing Arts, featured adolescents in 




Fred Astaire, h. Frederick Austerlitz, Omaha, Nebraska, 10 May 1899, d. 22 June 1987 
Ginger Rogers, h. Independence, Missouri, 16 July 1911, d. 25 April 1995 

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers epitomized exhibition 
ballroom dance in film and beyond. Both dancers had stage 
careers before their first film pairing. Astaire and his sister 
Adele began in vaudeville as children, reaching Broadway as 
specialty dancers in Over the Top (1917). Their reputations 
grew in New York and London with roles in the Gerhswins' 
Lady, Be Good (\925) 3nA Funny Face (1927), The Bandwagon 
(1931), and many other musicals and revues. Adele retired in 
1932. Rogers reached Broadway via Charleston competitions, 
vaudeville, and stints as a band singer. In Hollywood, she had 
roles that combined comedy and tap dancing in Busby 
Berkeley's 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. 

They were playing secondary comic roles when they 
were paired by Dave Gould for "The Carioca" number in 
the RKO musical Flying Down to Rio (1933). Their 
subsequent collaborations, staged by Hermes Pan, who 
had been Gould's assistant, were all starring roles. The 
classic Astaire and Rogers films were plotted musicals with 
songs by Broadway's greatest songwriters — The Gay 
Divorcee, with songs by Cole Porter (1934); Top Hat 
(1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), and Carefree (1938), by 
Irving Berlin; Roberta (1935) and Swing Time (1936), by 
Jerome Kern; and Shall We Dance (1937), by George and 
Ira Gershwin. Each accommodated at least one newly 
invented social dance, one competitive tap routine, and 
one love duet, as well as a tap solo for Astaire. Pan's 
romantic duets began simply, often with rhythmic 
walking, and progressed through flowing movements to 
lifts and dips, before returning to a quiet ending. Astaire 
and Rogers were cast in the title roles in The Story of 
Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), RKO's tribute to the pre— 
World War I ballroom dancers. The RKO publicity 

machine promoted them, the films, the songs, and 
ballroom dances extracted from the musicals. 

Although they reunited for the backstage musical The 
Barkleys of Broadway (1949), their dance partnership 
ended in 1939. Rogers went on to star in comedy roles for 
MGM and Twentieth Century Fox; Astaire kept dancing 
in film and on television, primarily to Pan's choreography. 
He was able to adapt his expertise to each partner — in tap 
with Eleanor Powell, languorous ballroom with Rita 
Hayworth and Cyd Charisse, and musical comedy with 
Judy Garland, Jane Powell, and Leslie Caron. For many, 
his tap solos with props were the highlight of the films. 
They began with objects setting a rhythm, such as the 
ship's engine in "Slap That Bass" in Shall We Dance. 
Although Astaire is recognized as one of the greatest of 
American dancers, as a popular quip has it, "Ginger 
Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards 
and in high heels." 


Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat 
(1935), Roberta (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing 
Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), The 
Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), The Barkleys of 
Broadway (1949) 


Astaire, Fred. Steps in Time. New York: Perennial Library, 

Croce, Arlene. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book. 
New York; Vintage Books, 1977. 

Gallafent, Edward. Astaire & Rogers. New York; Columbia 
University Press, 2002. 

Barbara Cohen-Stratyner 

ballet, modern, and jazz dance training. The modern 
dancer Louis Falco (1942-1993) staged the famous 
"improvised" sequences, in which the characters groove 
at lunchtime and spill onto the street. Dance (social and 
modern) has frequently been used as a language of self- 
expression in such popular films as Flashdance (1983) 
about a welder who wants to dance; Voices (1979), about 

a deaf woman who wants to dance; and Footloose (1984), 
about a teen who wants his town to dance. 

In the 1980s Music Television (MTV), and follow- 
ing it, VHl and Black Entertainment Television (BET), 
popularized music videos as an integral part of promot- 
ing recorded popular music. Many were filmed and 
spliced performances, relying heavily on editing, but 





some were staged and choreographed. Some refer clearly 
to film choreography, such as Madonna's "Material Girl" 
(1984) music video, an adaptation of Cole's staging of 
"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen 
Prefer Blondes, complete with human chandelier. 
Memorable music videos as dance include the robotic, 
stylized "Video Killed the Radio Star," and Michael 
Jackson's (b. 1958) take on a West Side Story— like gang 
war in "Beat It" (1982). Jackson's "moon walk" excited 
his teen fans and reminded their elders of the African 
American tap greats who developed such eccentric steps. 
Other directors worked with seemingly spontaneous 
dance steps, adapted from break dancing, voguing, and 
hip-hop, including Prince's "Purple Rain" (1984). The 
recognizable editing style associated with music videos, 
fast cross-cutting between the performance and dance 
scenes, has spread to influence feature films as well as 


The few extant examples of collaborations between film 
and dance from the early twentieth century come from 
the French avant-garde and include films made in Paris 
by Loie Fuller, considered a forerunner of modern dance 
and who was also a pioneer in the use of lighting design. 
French experimental filmmakers considered ballet to be a 
partner of animation, as in Fernand Leger's Ballet meca- 
nique (1924). The Dadaist work for Les Ballets Suedois, 
Relache (1924), included Rene Clair's film Entr'acte in 
the live performance. Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 
commissioned Ode (1928), with choreography by 
Leonide Massine, designs by Pavel Tchelitchev, and pro- 
jections by Pierre Charbonneau. It is likely that Soviet 
Constructivist filmmakers also worked with dance, but if 
so no such work has been found. Among several instances 
of photographers, filmmakers, and dancers working 
together, Mura Dehn and Roger Pryor Dodge filmed 
concerts of jazz dance in the late 1930s. Gjon Mill, best 
known as a LIFE magazine still photographer, filmed 
concerts in the early 1 940s, releasing Jammin ' the Blues 
in 1944. 

Maya Deren (1917—1961) and Alexander Hammid 
(1907-2004) are generally considered the first major 
proponents of "cinedance," or dance as film. Deren's 
first film. Meshes of the Aflernoon (1943), shows her 
walking on a new surface with each step. Her A Study 
in Choreography for Camera (1945), a four-minute film of 
Talley Beatty dancing, contains one effect still cited as 
influential for generations of filmmakers: Deren edited 
Beatty's side leap, which had been filmed in a variety of 
backgrounds, so that it seemed to stretch from exterior to 
interior settings. Later, Shirley Clarke (1919-1997) 
worked with modern dancers, cross-cutting between their 

movements and evocative nature images. Contemporary 
figures include Doris Chase and Amy Greenfield, best 
known for hex Antigone/ Rites of Passion (1991). 

The experimental generation of modern dance, led 
by the choreographer Merce Cunningham (b. 1919) and 
the composer John Cage (1912—1992), combined film 
and choreography in performance. Pioneering work in 
early video was done by Nam June Paik (1932-2006). 
The choreographers Trisha Brown, Carolee Schneeman, 
and Joan Jonas combined the genres, and Yvonne Rainer 
worked separately in each. Many events combined live 
task dances in environments that included video or film 
projection, such as Elaine Summers's Walking Dance for 
Any Number (1965). The Nine Evenings of Theater and 
Engineering, organized by RCA engineer Billy Kluver, 
were collaborations among choreographers, composers, 
and filmmakers with technology to enable live creation 
and viewing of performance on film. Cunningham him- 
self made scores of films and videos beginning in the 
1950s, collaborating with Paik, Stan VanDerBeek, Elliot 
Caplan, and Charles Atlas. The abstract expressionist 
painter Ed Emshwiller (1926—1990) made stop-motion 
films with Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993), a painter as well 
as a choreographer who manipulated shapes and color. 
Their Fusion (1967) was both a dance work performed in 
front of film and a separate film. 

Ballet as film has never developed in the United 
States but is a respected medium in Canada and 
Europe. The integration of film into ballet was popularly 
known only in the late 1960s, when it was also used by 
experimental opera directors such as Frank Carsaro. The 
best-known American work is Robert Jofifrey's psyche- 
delic Astarte, which was featured on the cover of 
Newsweek on 15 March 1968. The Canadian filmmaker 
Norman McLaren (1914-1987) has made a number of 
important cinedance films, including Pas de deux (1968), 
Ballet Adagio (1972), and Narcissus (1983). 

The postmodern generation has worked in both film 

and video but views the latter as a more flexible medium. 
Performances often use projections or screens as part of 
the environment for dance, as in Trisha Brown's Set and 
Reset (1983), with films and screens by Robert 
Rauschenberg. The choreographer Bill T. Jones's contro- 
versial Still/Here (1994) combined dancers with personal 
narratives of disease viewed on movable monitors. The 
composer/ choreographer Meredith Monk (b. 1942) has 
included film in her cantatas, such as Quarry, and has 
made films that stand on their own, most prominently 
Book of Days (1988) and several documentaries about her 
choreography. Eiko & Koma, Kai Takei, and other 
butoh-influenced choreographers use film to emphasize 
the slow pace of movement in their work. At the other 
extreme, Elizabeth Streb's collaborations with Michael 




Schwartz made visual sense of her impossibly fast dynam- 
ics. Many of the experiments were commissioned by and 
shown on Alive from Off Center (PBS, 1985-1994). 

The frustratingly ephemeral nature of dance has 
remained a problem despite the development of choreo- 
graphic notation systems. Film, and later videotape, has 
provided a form of visual documentation and preserva- 
tion for dance. In the 1910s and 1920s, the mechanical 
piano firm Ampico developed instructional films for 
"name" dancers and choreographers, such as Anna 
Pavlova, the Broadway dance director Ned Wayburn 
(1874-1942), and the concert dancers Ruth St. Denis 
(1878-1968) and Ted Shawn (as Denishawn). 

Most early filming was done by ethnographers or 
individual choreographers for their own use. Early 
attempts by institutions to document dance include 
Carol Lynn's 8mm films, made at Ted Shawn's summer 
workshop, Jacob's Pillow, in Becket, Massachusetts, and 
Helen Priest Rogers's films, made at the American Dance 
Festival. These silent films have been restored by the 
Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York 
Public Library for the Performing Arts, whose projects 
endeavor to match music exactly to the movements. 
Ethnographers have used film to document nonchoreo- 
graphed traditional, indigenous, and popular dance 
forms. Major figures have connected the worlds of film 
and ethnography, including the anthropologists/choreog- 
raphers Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus and the 
filmmaker Maya Deren. Rhoda Grauer, a pioneering 
producer of dance on television, has recently focused on 
films documenting the traditional arts of Indonesia. Her 
Libraries on Fire: When an Elder Dies, a Book Bums series 
includes the portrait of an elderly Topeng performer in 
Rasinah: The Enchanted Mask (2005). 

Mura Dehn (1902-1987) pioneered documentation 
of African American social dance in her The Spirit Moves 
films. Collaborating with dancers and historians, she has 
created films about the Savoy Ballroom swing dancers. 

rock and roll moves, and break dancing. Documentaries 
on underground genres within African American social 
dance have received wide distribution and praise, includ- 
ing Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning (1990), on vogu- 
ing; Sally Sommer and Michael Schwartz's project Coin' 
ta Work (released as Check Your Body at the Door, 1994), 
on club dancing; Jon Reiss's Better Living through Circuitry 
(1999), on raves; and David LaChapelle's Krumped (short, 
2004) and Rizx (2005), on the Los Angeles dance move- 
ment called krump. 

With the development of video technology, docu- 
mentation has become common. Character Generators, 
Inc. (Michael Schwartz and Mark Robison) and Studio 
D (Dennis Diamond) use single- and multiple-camera 
shoots to document dance and performance art for chor- 
eographers and historians. The Jerome Robbins Dance 
Division of the New York Public Library for the 
Performing Arts is the depository of record for most 
dance documentation. Its own projects and those of the 
Dance Heritage Coalition have identified collections 
throughout North America and developed standards for 
cataloging and preservation. 

SEE ALSO Choreography; Musicals 


Arnheim, Rudolf. Film as Art. Berkeley: University of California 

Press, 1957. 

Dance Perspectives. "Cine Dance" issue, no. 30 (Summer 1967). 

Dodds, Sherill. Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from 

Hollywood to Experimental Art. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 

Heider, Karl G. Ethnographic Film. Austin: University of Texas 
Press, 1976. 

Johnson, Catherine, and Allegra Fuller Snyder. Securing Our 
Dance Heritage. Washington, DC: Council for Library and 
Information Resources, 1999. 

Snyder, Allegra Fuller. Dance Films: A Study of Choreo-Cinema. 
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1973. 

Barbara Cohen-Stratyner 




For a thousand years, Denmark has been an independent 
kingdom. Since 1 849 it has been ruled with a democratic 
constitution and for over a century has enjoyed a gener- 
ally peaceful history. Perhaps this history explains why 
Danish cinema in general is characterized by an atmos- 
phere of jovial, often self-ironic humor and provincial 
calm. Denmark has been a film nation since the begin- 
ning of film history in the 1890s, and for some years 
around 1910, the Danish film industry was among the 
leading in Europe. This position, however, did not last 
long and after World War I, the impact of Danish 
cinema declined. 

With the arrival of sound in Denmark in 1931, 
Danish film, soon dominated by popular comedies, 
became a profitable national business. However, with 
the arrival of television in the 1950s, cinema attendance 
declined, and in the 1960s the state began supporting the 
production of artistic films, since 1972 through The 
Danish Film Institute. Since the mid-1990s, Denmark 
has won a new position in world cinema, rather surpris- 
ing for a nation with a population of 5.4 million and a 
yearly output of around twenty-five feature films (in all, 
about 1,000 Danish feature films have been produced 
since 1930). In particular, a groundbreaking filmmaker 
like Lars von Trier and his initiative. Dogma 95, have 
received international attention. 


Film came to Denmark in 1896 when the first short films 
(probably British) were presented in a pavilion on the 
City Square of Copenhagen. Since December 1897 
Danish productions, made by photographer Peter Elfelt 

(1866-1931), were also shown. The first film pioneer in 
Denmark, he made more than one hundred short films 
between 1897-1907 — on sport, royalty, city life, and 
public events in the style of Auguste and Louis Lumiere. 

The first important Danish film production com- 
pany was Nordisk Films Kompagni (now: Nordisk 
Film), established in 1906 by Ole Olsen. Nordisk, which 
has been a major player in Danish media for a century, 
took the lead with short, dramatic films, such as 
L0vejagten {Lion Hunt, 1907), directed by house director 
Viggo Larsen (1880-1957), a former army sergeant. 
Beginning in 1910 the longer feature films appeared. 
The first, Alfred Cohn's Den hvide Slavehandel {The 
White Slave Traffic, 1910) for Fotorama, was immedi- 
ately plagiarized by Nordisk under the same title, with 
August Blom (1869-1947) as director. The small com- 
pany Kosmorama made Urban Gad's (1879-1947) 
Afgrunden {The Abyss, 1910), in which Asta Nielsen 
(1881-1972) plays a young woman who leaves her sen- 
sible fiance for a reckless circus artist, whom she murders 
when he betrays her. Nielsen and husband Gad soon left 
for Germany where Nielsen, in a diversity of roles, 
became one of the greatest European stars because of 
her psychological acting style. 

During the silent years Denmark produced about 
1,600 fictional films (features and shorts) and over 
1,000 nonfiction films, although only about 250 are 
extant. In the Golden Age of Danish Cinema (circa 
1908-1913) Danish films benefited from the interna- 
tionalism of the silent era and were seen all over 
Europe, especially melodramas with a social and erotic 
theme, such as The Abyss and in Blom's Ved Fmngslets Port 
{At the Prison Gates, 1911), starring Valdemar Psilander 




(1884—1917), the leading male star, and sensational films 
like the circus drama De fire Djavle {The Four Devils, 1911). 
A major artist and the most innovative figure in early 
Danish silent cinema was Benjamin Christensen (1879- 
1959). His spy story Det hemmelighedsfulde X {The 
Mysterious X, 1914) and the social crime story Havnens 
Nat {Night of Revenge, 1916) explored new visual styles. 
Although the cinematic essay Hdxan {Witchcrafi Through 
the Ages, 1922), financed in Sweden, was a commercial 
failure, it is one of the most original and daring silent 
films in world cinema. 

Nordisk's biggest production was Blom's costly and 
impressive Atlantis (1913), inspired by the Titanic disas- 
ter, which was a commercial disappointment. During 
World War I when Denmark was neutral, Nordisk made 
pacifist dramas, for example, the science fiction film 
Himmelskibet {A Ship to Heaven, 1917). Although 
Nordisk had a strong position in Germany, the Berlin 
branch was swallowed up in 1917 when the German 
military decided to nationalize the film industry with 
the Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft). This 
restructuring contributed to the decline of Nordisk, 
which then concentrated on such costly productions as 
Carl Dreyer's (1889-1968) first films and A. W. 
Sandberg's literary adaptations of novels by Charles 
Dickens, including Store Forventninger {Great 
Expectations) and David Copperfield (both 1922), but 
without the expected international success. Only the 
new company, Palladium, established in Denmark in 
1922, enjoyed international success with the comic team 
Fyrtaarnet og Bivognen (literally, the Lighthouse and the 
Sidecar), known abroad as Pat and Patachon (their actual 
names were Carl Schenstrom [1881-1942] and Harald 
Madsen [1890-1949]). 


Already in 1 923 the Danish engineers Axel Petersen and 
Arnold Poulsen had presented their sound system. 
Nordisk went into liquidation in 1928 but was re-estab- 
lished in 1929 with the new sound system. The first 
feature film with Danish dialogue was Prasten i Vejlby 
{The Vicar of Vejlby, 1931), based on a literary classic and 
directed by George Schneevoigt. In the 1930s, Denmark, 
too, was marked by depression and unemployment, but 
perhaps for that reason the dominating film genre was 
the jovial "folk comedy" — a light comedy with songs, 
and marked by an unfailing optimism — whose leading 
stars were Marguerite Viby (1909-2001) and lb 
Schonberg. Outside the mainstream, Poul Henningsen 
(1894-1967) created Danmark {Denmark, 1935), the 
seminal and controversial work of the new Danish docu- 
mentary film, a description of Denmark in a lyrical style 

that anticipated that of the British documentary Night 
Mail (1936). 

The Nazi German occupation of Denmark from 
1940 to 1945 meant restrictions for Danish film as well 
as for the society in general. There was soon a ban on 
showing American and British films in Danish movie 
theaters, and censorship did not allow the realities of 
the Occupation to be shown in Danish films. Instead, 
there was a demonstrative change to other darker genres, 
such as Danish noir films influenced by French poetic 
realism. In addition to sophisticated entertainment, there 
existed heritage films that presented nostalgic visions of a 
lost Denmark. After a long hiatus, Dreyer returned with 
the witch hunt drama, Vredens Dag {Day of Wrath, 
1943), set in Denmark in the 1600s. With its story of 
torture and persecution, it was generally understood as an 
implicit commentary on the German Occupation. In 
addition, a short documentary by Hagen Hasselbalch 
(1915—1997), Kornet er i Fare {The Harvest Is in Danger, 
1945), became famous because it appeared to be an 
informational film about agricultural pest control but 
clearly was a witty allegory about the Nazi invaders. 

A few months afiier the end of the Occupation, the 
first films about the Danish Resistance appeared, and 
soon thereafter, a realistic breakthrough in Danish cin- 
ema came about with films about everyday life and social 
problems that somewhat resembled Italian neorealistic 
films. Most important were Bjarne Henning-Jensen's 
Ditte Menneskebarn {Ditte, Child of Man, 1946) and 
Johan Jacobsen's Soldaten og Jenny {Jenny and the 
Soldier, 1947). In the 1950s, a number of didactic films 
warning the nation about alcoholism and juvenile crime 
appeared, but generally the 1950s meant a return to the 
popular, cosy style of prewar Denmark. Die rode heste 
{The Red Horses, 1950), based on a novel dealing with an 
idyllic rural Denmark that probably never existed, by 
Morten Korch, a popular kitsch writer, was seen by over 
60 percent of the population. The production company, 
ASA, made a whole series of successful Korch films 
(1950—1967) and also a series of more modern comedies 
about suburban life. Far til fire {Father of Four, 1953- 
1961), based on a comic strip about a widowed father 
with four children. Most of ASA's films were directed by 
Alice OTredericks (1900-1968), who had started at 
Palladium in the 1930s and probably is the only woman 
director in world cinema who for several decades was a 
major force in mainstream cinema. Her example may 
have been the inspiration for the relatively large number 
of female directors in Danish cinema, among them Astrid 
Henning-Jensen (1914-2002), who made Palle alene i 
verden {Palle Alone in the World, 1949), the seminal work 
of the Danish children's film tradition, and later Susanne 
Bier (b. 1960) and Lone Scherfig (b. 1959). Nordisk 
released the first Danish feature film in color, Erik 




b. Copenhagen, Denmark, 3 February 1889, d. 20 March 1968 

Carl Dreyer is the great Danish auteur, one of the masters of 
the cinema who created his own dark vision of human 
suffering and sacrifice. However, his increasingly formalistic 
style and austere universe placed him very far from 
mainstream Danish cinema. Dreyer's work is characterized 
by an intense formalism with carefully planned shots and by 
an uncompromising search for the inner life behind the 
surface of reality. 

He started as a balloonist and journalist and came by 
coincidence into films in 1912. He wrote a number of 
manuscripts for Nordisk Film and also worked as editor. 
After his first film, the melodrama Pnesidenten {The 
President, 1919), he made the ambitious Blade afSatans Bog 
{Leaves Out of the Book of Satan, 1920), four episodes about 
Satan's work in four different ages inspired by D. W. 
Griffith's Intolerance (1918). During the next decade he 
worked in several countries. In Norway he shot a Swedish 
film, Prmtankan {The Witch Woman, 1920), a bittersweet 
comedy about a young man who has to marry the old 
widow in order to get the job as parson. In Germany he 
made Die Gezeichneten {Love One Another, 1922), a love 
story set in Czarist Russia against the background of 
pogroms, and Mikael {Chained, 1924) about a master 
painter (played by Benjamin Christensen) who becomes 
jealous when his young protege falls in love with a countess. 

In Denmark he made the realistic comedy Du skal are 
din Hustru {Master of the House, 1925), about a father and 
husband whose tyrannical attitude is changed when his old 
nanny arrives. Its success led to an invitation to visit 
France, where he made La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc {The 
Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928), one of the uncontested 
classics of world cinema. For this gripping presentation of 
the trial and execution of Joan of Arc, he developed a new 
ascetic style of closeups of an almost transcendental 
intensity. After directing the poetic horror story Vampyr: 
Der Traum des Allan Grey { The Vampire, 1932), he 
returned to Denmark. Several international projects were 
aborted and it was not until 1943, during the German 

Occupation, that he again made a feature film, the witch- 
hunt drama Vredens Dag {Day of Wrath, 1943). 

After World War II, he wrote the manuscript for a 
film about Jesus and, for the rest of his life, tried untiringly 
but unsuccessfully to secure financing for it. He made two 
more films, Ordet {The Word, 1955), based on a play by 
Kaj Munk about a young woman who dies giving birth 
but miraculously is called back to life by her disturbed 
brother-in-law, and the spare and slow-moving 
melodrama Gertrud (1964), the story of a woman doomed 
to solitude because the men in her life are unwilling to 
sacrifice work and career for love. 

Dreyer's personal background is a strange drama. His 
Swedish mother, probably made pregnant by her Danish 
master at an estate in southern Sweden, put him up for 
adoption in Denmark and died soon after. In his work, 
Dreyer, born Nilsson, constantly circles around the 
women suppressed in a man's world. 


Prdstdnkan {The Witch Woman, 1920), Blade afSatans Bog 
{Leaves Out of the Book of Satan, 1921), Mikael {Chained, 
1924), La Passion de Jeanne dArc {The Passion of Joan of 
Arc, 1928), Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Grey {The 
Vampire, 1932), Vreden Dag {Day of Wrath, 1943), Ordet 
{The Word, 1955), Gertrud (1964) 


Bordwell, David. The Pilms of Carl-Theodor Dreyer. Berkeley: 

University of California Press, 1981. 
Dreyer, Carl. Dreyer in Double Reflection. Translated by 

Donald SkoUer. New York: Dutton, 1973. 
Drum, Jean, and Dale D. Drum. My Only Great Passion: The 

Life and Pilms of Carl Th. Dreyer. Lanhan, MD: 

Scarecrow, 2000. 
Milne, Tom. The Cinema of Carl Dreyer. New York: A. S. 

Barnes and London: Zwemmer, 1971. 

Schrader, Paul. Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, 
Dreyer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. 

Peter Schepelern 

Balling's (1924—2005) Kispus (1956), a romantic comedy Word, 1955), the only one of his films to enjoy general 
set in the fashion world. Outside all the typical trends popularity with both Danish and international audiences 
and traditions is Dreyer's religious drama Ordet {The (it earned a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival). 




Carl Theodore Dreyer. EVERETT collection, reproduced 


The 1960s was marked by the drastic decline in 
cinema attendance — from 1950 through 1970 admis- 
sions fell from 52 million to 23 million people — due to 
the arrival of TV (Danmarks Radio started regular TV 
broadcasting in 1951, and was a monopoly until 1988). 
This decrease led to new film legislation in 1965 in 
which state support for the production of artistic films 
was introduced. In the long period when movie theaters 
were a very lucrative business, Denmark had a licensing 
system by which having a license was a precondition to 
running a movie theater and was given as a special reward 
to well-merited artists (such as Christensen and Dreyer) 
or to production companies that produced culturally 
valuable films. However, the decrease in cinema attend- 
ance led to the deregulation of cinema exhibition in 

Overall, European cinema gained cultural respect- 
ability during the 1960s. New artistic movements flour- 
ished — most importantly, the French New Wave and 
modernist films by Fellini and Antonioni. In Denmark 
the 1960s became a transitional period: groundbreaking 
New Wave films, such as Palle Kjjerulff-Schmidt's 
Weekend (1962), about disillusion among couples in their 
thirties, written by the versatile writer Klaus Rifbjerg, and 

modernist works, such as Henning Carlsen's Suit 
{Hunger, 1966), based on Knut Hamsun's novel about 
a starving writer in Kristiania (now Oslo) of the 1890s, 
appeared alongside the ever-popular folk comedy. Of 
particular note is Balling's Olsen-banden {The Olsen 
Gang, 1968-1981) series of thirteen films, in which the 
population recognized itself in the unsuccessful trio of 
petit bourgeois criminals who, guided by their leader 
Egon, are always involved in fantastic heists that inevi- 
tably go wrong. As had been his practice throughout his 
career, Dreyer produced a film that went completely 
against the grain of contemporary taste, the melodrama 
Gertrud (1964), his last work. 


In 1967 Denmark probably was the first country in the 
world to legalize literary pornography and in 1969 pic- 
torial pornography for adults. The result was a short but 
profitable wave of erotic films that made Denmark 
famous as a liberal country. Palladium, the producer of 
Gertrud, started a series of erotic comedies. These 
so-called bedside comedies can hardly be described as 
pornographic, but rather as a combination of popular 
comedy and sex. Hugely profitable for some years, they 
vanished when, after Deep Throat (1972) and other hard- 
core films, the United States became the world's leading 
producer of pornographic material. 

The 1970s became a period of diversity. The erotic 
films and the popular Olsen Gang comedies flourished 
and with the establishment in 1 972 of The Danish Film 
Institute, art films gained support. A Danish Film School 
had been established in 1966 and a new generation 
appeared, the most original of whom was the documen- 
tarist J0rgen Leth. The state favored films for children 
and young adults (25% of the subsidy must be used on 
this category), resulting in a special trend. Such films as 
Nils Malmros's (b. 1944) Drenge {Boys, 1977), Soren 
Kragh-Jacobsen's (b. 1947) Vil du se min smukke navle? 
{Wanna See My Beautiful Navel?, 1978), Bille August's 
(b. 1948) Honning Mane {Honeymoon, 1978), and 
Morten Arnfred's (b. 1945) Johnny Larsen (1979) 
describe the vulnerable, marginalized young people, pre- 
sented in undramatic, low-key stories with a melancholy 
atmosphere. This humanistic realism could be seen as 
related to the Danish literary tradition for focusing on 
the weak dreamer and reluctant antihero. 

The tendency continued in the 1980s with master- 
pieces like Malmros's Kundskabens Tra {Tree of 
Knowledge, 1981), about desire and disillusion among 
school children, and Kragh-Jacobsen's children's fable 
Gummi-Tarzan {Rubber TarzMn, 1981). The most 
famous films of the period, however, were the two 
Academy Award® winners, Gabriel Axel's Bahettes 




gxstebud {Babette's Feast, 1987), a conventional adapta- 
tion of an Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) story about an 
exiled French cook in the late 1800s who wins a fortune 
and spends all the money making a dinner so she can 
once again show provincial Denmark her art, and 
August's moving Pelle erohreren {Pelle the Conqueror, 
1987), based on Martin Andersen Nexo's classical novel 
about a boy's childhood among poor farm workers in the 
late 1800s. 

State support for film production had started as 
support for film art, but during the 1970s and 1980s it 
became increasingly clear that all types of film needed 
state support if Danish film production were to survive. 
Danish movie theaters, which numbered 462 in I960, 
180 (with 347 screens) in 1990, and 166 theatres (379 
screens) in 2003, depended on Danish films with popular 
appeal. In 1989 a new support system — the so-called 50/50 
system, now the 60/40 system — was established, which, 
with some restrictions, gave 50 percent of the fiinding 

(yet only up to 3.4 million Danish kroner), later 60 
percent and up to 5 million Danish kroner, if the com- 
pany could provide the rest, on the condition that the film 
could be expected to have broad appeal (approximately 
175,000 admissions). This support created a new wave 
of popular comedies, and especially successful in the 
domestic market were films that imitated the style of 
popular family films from the 1950s and 1960s, such as 
Krummeme {The Crumbs, 1991) and sequels. 

A new tendency appeared with Ole Bornedal's 
Nattevagten (1994, remade in the United States as 
Nightwatch, 1997). Breaking with humanistic realism, it 
presented an effective horror plot with splatter and sus- 
pense totally foreign to Danish traditions. Where the 
unwritten rule of artistic Danish cinema was always to 
keep a distance from Hollywood mainstream genres, 
Nattevagten faced the challenge. The film was a refreshing 
landmark in new Danish cinema and was followed by 
such other mainstream films as Bier's comedy Den eneste 




ene {The One and Only, 1999), which was hugely suc- 
cessful with the Danish audience. It was not the tradi- 
tional "folk comedy" or family entertainment, but a 
romantic comedy in the style of Mike Newell's Four 
Weddings and a Funeral (1994). 


Outside of all these trends stood the young Lars von 
Trier (b. 1956), who introduced his own personal style 
and original universe with the trilogy The Element of 
Crime (1984), Epidemic (1987), and Europa (Zentropa, 
1991), which presented a flamboyant look in a postmod- 
ern style, influenced by Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky, of 
an apocalyptic Europe in the past, present, and future. 
Trier is also the main reason, though not the only one, 
that Denmark won a new position in world cinema since 
the mid-1990s. 

It was also Trier who was behind the other impor- 
tant trend, Dogma 95. It started with a manifesto pub- 
lished by Lars von Trier with young Thomas Vinterberg 
(b. 1969) as co-signatory in March 1995. During the 
shooting of the TV serial Riget {The Kingdom, 1994; part 
two, 1997), Trier realized that it was possible to ignore 
the normal technical standards and cinematic rules when 
working with a strong story and fascinating characters. 
He had always believed in creative development through 
obstructions. On this basis he came up with a set of rules 
that prescribe that the fdms should take place "here and 
now," that all shooting should take place on location 
with no added props, that there should always be direct 
sound, that the camera should always be hand-held, and 
that there should be no artificial lighting, no optical work 
or superficial action, and no crediting of the director! 
Dogma was meant as a "rescue operation," an anti- 
illusion and anti-Hollywood initiative, in which the 
director swears "to force the truth out of my characters 
and settings." 

When all cosmetics and effects are banished, story 
and character are left. This method allows for the actors 
to develop their characters. The first Dogma 95 films — 
Vinterberg's Festen {The Celebration) and Trier's The 
Idiots — came out in 1998, followed by Kragh-Jacobsen's 
Mifunes sidste sang {Mifune's Last Song, 1999) and 
Scherfig's Italiensk for hegyndere {Italian for Beginners, 
2000). The first Dogma films received prizes and much 
international attention, especially The Celebration, an 
incest drama, and Idioterne {The Idiots 1998), about a 
group of young people who pretend to be retarded in 
order to "reach their inner idiot." The Dogma films have 
continued to add new energy to Danish cinema, although 
twenty or so foreign Dogma films generally have been 
less interesting. 

Before The Idiots Trier made his international break- 
through with Breaking the Waves (1996), a bizarre reli- 
gious melodrama about a young Scottish woman who 
believes that her sexual martyrdom and death will make 
God cure her disabled husband. The miracle ending has 
reminiscences of Dreyer's Ordet. The film, internation- 
ally co-financed like most of his later work, was domi- 
nated by a hand-held camera style and Emily Watson's 
intense acting. Trier continued with the theme of the 
self-sacrificing woman in Dancer in the Dark (2000), in 
which Icelandic singer Bjork, who also wrote the music, 
plays a Czech woman who must go to the gallows to save 
her son from blindness. It, too, is a simple and highly 
emotional fable, but also a groundbreaking experiment 
with the musical genre. In Dogville (2003), the first part 
of a projected American trilogy. Trier continued his 
fearless attempts to find different approaches. In this 
film, Grace (Nicole Kidman), who has run away from 
pursuers, finds shelter in a small American mountain 
village in 1933; first she is kindly received, but gradually 
there is a change of attitude and she is suppressed and 
abused. Contrary to the earlier Trier heroines, she fights 
back. A didactic and ironic fable about power and mor- 
ality, the film is perhaps most striking for its Brechtian 
formalism, taking place on an almost bare stage with sets 
only outlined and dominated by a narrator's voice-over. 
The story about Grace continued with Manderlay (2005), 
in which Grace takes over an estate in the Deep South 
where slavery has been maintained. For Trier, an impor- 
tant intention behind the Dogma concept was to force 
himself out of routines and habits, and he continued this 
general method in the highly original De fem benspand 
{The Five Obstructions, 2003). Here he challenges senior 
colleague J0rgern Leth to remake one of his early exper- 
imental films according to Trier's whimsical instructions. 

In more mainstream Danish cinema, there has been 
considerable national success with realistic stories about 
everyday life, typically about couples and infidelity, 
parents and children, as in Bier's Dogma film Ehker dig 
for evigt {Open Hearts, 2002). Also popular have been 
bittersweet buddy movies that continue the typical 
Danish taste for stories about jovial, small-time crooks, 
such as Blinkende lygter {Flickering Lights, 2000), directed 
by Anders Thomas Jensen (b. 1972), who won an 
Academy Award® for the short Valgafien {Election 
Night, 1998). In the new generation the most promising 
art film talent is Christoffer Boe (b. 1974), who directed 
the subtle drama of the eternal triangle. Reconstruction 
(2003), about the illusions of love and reality. 


Since the 1920s American films have dominated Danish 
movie theaters. In the last fifteen years of the twentieth 




century, there has been a tendency in most European 
countries for Hollywood blockbusters to dominate the 
movie theaters (55-60%), but the national films make up 
a relatively large percentage of the box office as well. In 
Denmark in the 1990s, 10 or 15 Danish films repre- 
sented 30 percent of the box office. The losers are clearly 
films from other European countries, which accounted 
for only 10 percent. Of the 25 most often seen films in 
Danish cinemas between 1976 and 2004, 13 were from 
the United States, 1 1 from Denmark, and only one (a 
James Bond film) from another country. 

For a small country, it is especially important to 
preserve the national culture and language, but it is also 
tempting to try one's luck in the international film world. 
Nielsen, Dreyer, and Christensen all went abroad to 
international careers during the silent years. Other 
Danes who went away to international careers are actors 
Jean Hersholt (1886-1956), who was seen in early 
Hollywood films, including Erik von Stroheim's Greed 
(1924); Torben Meyer, who is most remembered for 
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961); Brigitte Nielsen for Red 
Sonya (1985); and Connie Nielsen for Gladiator (2000). 

In addition, August has produced international 
films, among them The House of the Spirits (1993), based 
on Isabel AUende's novel of the same title. In the twenty- 
first century, many Danish directors have made Danish 
films in English, for example, nearly all of Trier's films, 
as well as Vinterberg's It's All About Love (2002) and 
Dear Wendy (2005), Bornedal's I Am Dina (2002), and 

Scherfig's Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2003). However, 
often the result is that the filmmakers lose the Danish 
public without attracting a large international audience, 
for while the Danes go to the cinema to find entertain- 
ment and excitement, they also desire to see themselves 
and their own world portrayed on the screen. 

SEE ALSO National Cinema 

Cowie, Peter. Scandinavian Cinema: A Survey of Films and 
Filmmakers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and 
Sweden. London: Tantivy, 1992. 

Hjort, Mette. Small Nation, Global Cinema: The New Danish 
Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. 

Hjort, Mette, and lb Bondebjerg, eds. The Danish Directors: 
Dialogues on a Contemporary National Cinema. Translated by 
Mede Hjort. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2001. 

Hjort, Mette, and Scott MacKenzie, eds. Purity and Provocation: 
Dogma 95. London: British Film Institute, 2003. 

Lumholdt, Jan, ed. Lars von Trier: Interviews. Jackson: University 
Press of Mississippi, 2003. 

Mottram, Ron. The Danish Cinema before Dreyer. Metuchen, NJ: 
Scarecrow, 1988. 

Nestingen, Andrew, and Trevor G. Elkington, eds. Transnational 
Cinema in a Global North: Nordic Cinema in Transition. 
Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005. 

Peter Schepelern 




Cinematic dialogue is oral speech between fictional char- 
acters. This distinguishes dialogue from other types of 
cinematic language such as voice-over narration, internal 
monologue, or documentary interviews, which have dif- 
ferent characteristics. 

Since the birth of the cinema, it has been said that 
"film is a visual medium." Supposedly, films must tell 
their stories visually — editing, deep focus, lighting, cam- 
era movement, and nifty special effects are what really 
count. Dialogue, on the other hand, is just something we 
have to put up with. Even the term "film viewing" does 
not take into account the role of dialogue. We are accus- 
tomed to the analogy of the filmgoer as voyeur, surrepti- 
tiously spying on the actions of the on-screen characters. 
Yet what is overlooked is that viewers are also auditors. In 
fact, they are eavesdroppers, listening in on conversations 
purportedly addressed to others, but conversations that — 
in reality — are designed to communicate vital informa- 
tion to the listeners in the dark. 

Dialogue, by its very nature, is deceptive. The char- 
acters on the screen speak not from their hearts but from 
a script; they whisper secrets to a vast public; they speak 
to inform the audience, not each other. Watching a film, 
on one level we are conscious of this duplicity, but on 
another we willingly suspend disbelief. Dialogue that 
betrays its true address to the moviegoer or sounds 
implausible is often condemned as clumsy because it 
fractures this fictional compact. But sometimes screen- 
writers intentionally use dialogue to wink at the audi- 
ence, as in Scream (1996), when one of the characters 
says: "Oh, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna 
be in the sequel!" Moreover, who is to say what is "out of 
character" for a fictional character? In Hollywood Shuffle 

(1987) Robert Townsend asks us to reconsider our 
expectations about what is "true to life" when he presents 
an African American actor speaking in a stereotypical 
black dialect and then reveals the actor's actual speaking 
voice to be British and very cultured. Thus, all of the 
rules about dialogue usage offered by screenwriting hand- 
books should be viewed skeptically, as any rule may be 
violated for calculated effect. 


Often, incidental dialogue works in movies to create a 
realistic flavor, to represent the everyday exchanges peo- 
ple have while ordering food or buying a newspaper. But 
dialogue also serves important functions within a film's 
story. Those who seek to minimize the value of dialogue 
have underestimated how much it contributes to every 
aspect of narrative film. Prescriptive rules might be better 
replaced by careful description and analysis of dialogue's 
typical functions. 

1) The identification of the fictional location and 
characters. As an example of dialogue's ability to anchor a 
narrative, consider the following exchange from an early 
scene in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). The stagecoach 
driver has just directed a well-dressed lady passenger 
toward the hotel for a cup of coffee. As she starts walk- 
ing to the hotel porch, another young woman addresses 

GIRL: Why, Lucy Mallory! 

LUCY: Nancy! How are you. Captain Whitney? 

CAPTAIN WHITNEY: Fine, thanks, Mrs. Mallory. 




NANCY: Why, whatever are you doing in 


LUCY: I'm joining Richard in Lordsburg. He's 
there with his troops. 

CAPTAIN WHITNEY {ojfscreen): He's a lot nearer 
than that, Mrs. Mallory. He's been ordered 
to Dry Fork. 

NANCY: Why, that's the next stop for the stage- 
coach. You'll be with your husband in a few 

This interchange tells us who Lucy is, where she is, where 
she is going, why she is going there, what her husband 
does, where her husband is, where the stage stops next, 
and how long it should take until the couple is reunited. 

2) The communication of narrative causality. The 
ulterior motive of much of film dialogue is to commu- 
nicate "why?" and "how?" and "what next?" to the 
viewer. The "what next" may be a simple anticipation 
of a plot development, such as takes place during one of 
Devlin's meetings with Alicia in Alfred Hitchcock's 
Notorious (1946): 

DEVLIN: Look. Why don't you persuade your 
husband to throw a large shindig so that 
he can introduce his bride to Rio society, 
say sometime next week? 


DEVLIN: Consider me invited. Then I'll try and 
find out about that wine cellar business. 

The dialogue has set up the party scene, Devlin's appear- 
ance there, and his and Alicia's surreptitious canvassing 
of the cellar, where they find that the wine botdes really 
contain uranium ore. 

3) The enactment of plot-turning events. Sometimes a 
verbal statement, a speech act, can itself be a major turning 
point in the plot. A soldier may be given a mission, char- 
acters may break down on the witness stand, someone in 
disguise may reveal his true identity. James Cameron's 7!?;^ 
Terminator (1984) is undeniably an action-oriented film 
with exciting chase scenes, explosions, and shootings. Yet 
even in this case, many of the key events are verbal, such as 
Sarah Connor's inadvertent betrayal of her location when 
the Terminator impersonates her mother on the phone, or 
Reese's declaration of a lifetime of devotion to a woman he 
had not yet met: "I came across time for you, Sarah. I love 
you. I always have." Verbal events — such as declarations of 
love or jury verdicts — can be the most thrilling moments of 
a narrative film. 

4) Character revelation. In our real lives we get to 
know acquaintances better by hstening to them; obviously, 
dialogue helps audiences understand the characters' per- 

sonalities and motivations. At one point in Casablanca 
(1942), Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is invited over to the 
table of Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), where he learns 
that the Gestapo officer has been keeping a dossier on 
him. Rick borrows the notebook, glances at it, and quips, 
"Are my eyes really brown?" Such a statement shows his 
refusal to be intimidated and his satirical view of 
Germanic efficiency. This is important in the context of 
a conversation in which the major is warning Rick not to 
involve himself in the pursuit of resistance leader Victor 
Lazlo, and Rick seems to be agreeing not to interfere. Only 
Rick's verbal irreverence shows that he is not cowed. 

5) Providing "realistic" verbal wallpaper. Screenplays 
often insert lines that seem appropriate to the setting and 
situation: photographers yell out for one more picture, 
flight attendants offer something to drink, or children 
shout while at play. Sometimes, the wallpaper is so 
rococo that it has significant aesthetic appeal of its own, 
as in John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate 
(1962), where we are treated to a wonderfully bizarre 
rendition of a ladies' garden club meeting about "hydran- 
geas' horticultural importance." 

6) Guiding the viewer. Filmmakers accomplish this 
by using dialogue to control pacing or atmosphere. "That 
plane's dustin' crops where there ain't no crops" turns 
the audience's attention from the vacant highway to the 
airplane in North by Northwest (1959). In Ridley Scott's 
Alien (1979), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is trying to 
chase the loathsome creature through the space ship's air 
ducts with a flamethrower. A female crewmember, 
Lambert, is coaching Dallas over a walkie-talkie as she 
watches a motion detector. She screams: "Oh God, it's 
moving right towards you! . . . Move! Get out of there! 
[Inaudible] Move, Dallas! Move, Dallas! Move, Dallas! 
Get out!" Such lines are not particularly informative. 
Their main function is to frighten the viewer, to increase 
the scene's tension. In this case, dialogue is accomplish- 
ing the task often taken by evocative background 
music — it is working straight on the viewer's emotions. 

7) The insertion of thematic messages. Putting the- 
matic or moral messages in the mouths of their characters 
allows filmmakers to talk to the audience. For example, 
at the end of Hitchcock's Toreign Correspondent, filmed 
and released in 1940, the hero, a radio reporter, warns of 
the Nazi threat and urges Americans to join in the fight: 

All that noise you hear isn't static; it's death 
coming to London. Yes, they're coming here 
now; you can hear the bombs falling on the 
streets and the homes. . . . It's as if the lights were 
all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those 
lights burning. Cover them with steel, ring them 
with guns. Build a canopy of battleships and 
bombing planes around them. Hello America! 




Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights 
left in the world. 

Such explicit messages are not confined to wartime persua- 
sion. Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellotuship of 
the Ring (2001) includes an efiictive passage from J. R. R. 
Tolkien's novel in which Gandalf instructs Frodo on the 
merits of pity and the danger of passing judgment. 

8) Exploitation of the resources of language. Dialogue 
opens up vistas unreachable by silent film. With the addition 
of verbal language, cinema was offered infinite possibilities 
in terms of puns, jokes, misunderstandings, witticisms, 
metaphors, curses, whispers, screams, songs, poetry, or story- 
telling. In The Wizard of Oz (1939), when the Wizard 
challenges his supplicants, he does so with relish: 

WIZARD: Step forward. Tin Man. You dare to 
come to me for a heart, do you? You clink- 
ing clanking, clattering collection of caligi- 
nous junk?. . . And you. Scarecrow, have the 
effrontery to ask for a brain, you billowing 
bale of bovine fodder? 

Viewers commonly adopt a film's most memorable 
lines — such as Bette Davis's "Fasten your seatbelts — it's 
going to be a bumpy night" in All About Eve (1950) — 
much the same way that earher generations used to learn 
and quote maxims and proverbs. Cinematic dialogue has 
had an immense influence on how we speak and, conse- 
quendy, on how we understand our culture and ourselves. 


The history of film dialogue starts with the silent era. Speech 
sometimes literally accompanied silent films — some exhib- 
itors hired lecturers to narrate silent films and local actors to 
speak lines for the characters. As the industry moved toward 
standardization, film producers found it desirable to include 
printed dialogue and expository intertitles. Silent film histor- 
ian Barry Salt has found dialogue intertides as early as 1904; 
Eileen Bowser has recorded that from 1907 to 1915 pro- 
ducers experimented with finding the exactly right place- 
ment and format for such titles. After 1915, with feature- 
length films, title writing became a specialty, and dialogue 
intertides were used for humor, to convey important infor- 
mation, and to individualize charaaers. The critical rever- 
ence of the few films that torturously managed to avoid 
intertides, such as F. W. Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924), 
shoidd not be taken as indicative of the typical practices of 
the silent era. After all, in silent movies the characters were 
not supposed to be mutes. The characters spoke to one 
another; the incapacity was on the side of the fihngoers — 
we were the ones who were deaf. 

The transition to sound in the late 1920s was comph- 
cated for American studios and theater owners, demanding 

great oudays of capital and entailing negotiation between 
competing technologies and corporate strategies. Equally 
upsetting for some in the film community was the wrench- 
ing shift in their approach to their craft caused by the 
possibilities of sound. The apprehension that sound would 
be the death of the visual artistry of silent film was initially 
abetted by the limitations of early microphones and record- 
ing apparatus, which restricted camera movement. From a 
historical perspective, what is remarkable about the con- 
version to sound is not that it was bumpy, but that the 
technical and aesthetic problems were solved so quickly and 
successfiilly, so that by the early 1930s the use of dialogue, 
sound effects, and music betrays none of the restrictions, 
tinniness, or fumbling of the transition films. 

Immediately afiier the incorporation of sound, 
Hollywood began a wholesale importation of East Coast 
writers. The newspapermen, playwrights, and vaudevillians 
who went West in the early 1930s brought with them new 
sensibiUties, novel stories, and a fresh approach to language. 

In addition, sound instandy altered the balance of 
genres. Film musicals burst forth, as did literal adaptations 
of stage plays, which now could retain not just plot points, 
but much of the original stage dialogue. Verbally based 
comedies, featuring performers such as the Marx Brothers 
or W. C. Fields, expanded the contours of film comedy. 
Moreover, genres that had been established during the 
silent era underwent sea changes because of the new aes- 
thetic capabilities. Each genre developed its ovm dialogue 
conventions, such as the street argot in gangster films or the 
dialect in westerns, conventions that turned out to be just as 
important to genre dynamics as their visual iconography. 

A third event of the 1930s was the adoption of the 
Motion Picture Production Code, written in 1930 and 
more stringently enforced by the Hays Office after 1934. 
One of the reasons why this formal practice of industry 
self-censorship was put in place at this time is that verbal 
transgressions of prevailing standards were now possible. 
Although much of the Code deals with overall plot 
development, moral attitudes, and what viewers might 
learn about illicit behavior, several of the tenets deal 
specifically with language. For example: 

• Oaths should never be used as a comedy 
element. Where required by the plot, the less 
offensive oaths may be permitted. 

• Vulgar expressions come under the same 
treatment as vulgarity in general. Where 
women and children are to see the film, vulgar 
expressions (and oaths) should be cut to the 
absolute essentials required by the situation. 

• The name of Jesus Christ should never be used 
except in reverence. 




b. Chicago, Illinois, 29 August 1898, d. 6 August 1959 

No one quite had such a way with dialogue as Preston 
Sturges. As a screenwriter, he constructed plots that were 
far-fetched and sometimes incoherent; as a director, his 
visuals were competent but uninspired. But as a dialogue 
writer, Sturges was unparalleled. 

Preston Sturges had an eccentric upbringing; his 
mother divorced his father and married a Chicago 
socialite, only to leave him for a free-spirited life in 
Europe, following dancer Isadora Duncan. He lived in 
Europe off and on from 1901 to 1914. Sturges studied in 
a series of private schools in the United States and Europe 
and began writing plays in the late 1 920s — some of which 
were acclaimed, others spectacular flops. He was hired as a 
writer by Universal in 1932. 

Sturges worked as a screenwriter for numerous 
studios, and several of his scripts — such as The Good Fairy 
(1935), Easy Living (1937), and Remember the Night 
(1940) — were turned into successful movies. In 1940 
Paramount agreed to let him direct his own scripts. The 
Paramount years were his most productive, with Sturges 
turning out a series of sparkling comedies in quick 
succession. Then Sturges's career fell off dramatically in 
the late 1940s when he left Paramount for a disastrous 
venture with Howard Hughes; he could not regain his 
footing during his short contract with Fox, and developed 
a reputation for being overpriced, arrogant, and unable to 
bring a film in on budget. 

Sturges's dialogue is never "realistic"; no real person 
ever talked like his characters. He created a made-up, 
nonsense language for his vaguely European gigolo, Toto, 
in The Palm Beach Story (1942), but the rest of his 
people — from rich socialites, to Texas millionaires, to 
constables, to card sharks, to film producers — speak with 
equal disregard of verisimilitude. Sturges moved back and 
forth between long, eloquent phrasemaking to abrupt, 
staccato interchanges, and he mixed in noises such as 
hiccups or barking dogs. He imagined characters from 

every social sphere and cast actors with a wide range of 
voices, from mellifluous to gravelly. 

The words flying out of these characters' mouths are 
improbable, unpredictable, and funny. For instance, in 
Easy Living, J. B. Ball throws his wife's fur coat off the 
roof. It lands on Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) as she is riding 
on the top level of a New York bus. Surprised, angry, she 
turns around to the innocent passenger sitting behind her, 
asking, "Say, what's the big idea, anyway?" He calmly 
replies: "Kismet." In Sullivan's Travels (1941), studio head 
Mr. LeBrand recalls Sullivan's previous hit films: "So 
Long, Sarong," "Hey Hey in the Hayloft," and "Ants in 
Your Plants of 1939." LeBrand and his associate suggest 
that Sully's new project should be "Ants in Your Plants of 
1941," and they offer him Bob Hope, Mary Martin, and, 
maybe, Bing Crosby. And in The Lady Eve (1941), when 
Jean hatches her plan to impersonate a British Lady and 
get her revenge on Charles, she remarks, "I need him 
[Charles] like the ax needs the turkey." Hollywood 
romantic comedies needed Sturges's wit to the same degree. 


Christmas in July (1940), The Great McGinty (1940), The 
Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm 
Beach Story (1942), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), 
Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) 


Curtis, James. Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges. 
New York; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982. 

Harvey, James. Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch 
to Sturges. New York: Knopf, 1987. 

Sturges, Preston. Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges, edited by 
Brian Henderson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 

. Four More Screenplays by Preston Sturges. Berkeley: 

University of California Press, 1985. 
Ursini, James. The Fabulous Life and Times of Preston Sturges: 

An American Dreamer. New York: Curtis Books, 1973. 

Sarah Kozlojf 

Along with the Production Code, another key pressure "Garbo Talks!" — is representative of the public's interest in 
on dialogue throughout the studio years was the star system. hearing its favorite movie stars. Scripts have always been 
The famous advertising slogan iot Anna Christie (1930) — specifically tailored for their stars' personae and verbal abilities. 





Studio-era directors and screenwriters developed dis- 
tinctive dialogue styles. Especially in screwball comedies, 
such as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday 
(1940), director Howard Hawks (1896-1977) would 
have his actors speak quickly and jump on each others' 
lines; his overlapping dialogue became a central element 
of his films' breakneck pacing. Billy Wilder (1906— 
2002), who had emigrated from Germany and taught 
himself English by listening to baseball games, often 
foregrounded his fascination with American slang. 
Orson Welles (1915-1985) put his experience with radio 
into the soundtracks of his movies, so that each charac- 
ter's voice is inflected by his or her spatial surroundings. 
Joseph Mankiewicz's (1909-1993) forte was depicting 
literate, urbane characters, such as Addison DeWitt 
(George Sanders) in All About Eve (1950), while 
Preston Sturges excelled at snappy comic dialogue. 

The dissolution of the Production Code in the late 
1950s, along with the gradual loosening of cultural restric- 
tions throughout the 1 960s, prompted a seismic upheaval 
in scriptwriting, allowing the frank treatment of taboo 
subject matter, the incorporation of street language, and 
the inclusion of obscenity. Changes in social expectations 
were also matched by technological developments, such as 

improvements in mixing and the invention of radio mikes, 
which led to more flexibility in sound recording. 

During the late 1960s and early 1970s American 
movies, influenced by the breezy French New Wave, 
featiu-ed dialogue that was noticeably more colloquial, less 
carefitl about rhythm, less polished, more risque, and 
marked by an improvisational air. The accompanying act- 
ing style was less declamatory, faster, and more throwaway; 
the recording of lines allowed much more overlapping and 
a higher degree of inaudibility. This more realistic, infor- 
mal style of dialogue appears in John Cassavetes's (1929- 
1989) Faces (1968), which relies on improvisation; in the 
films of Robert Altman (b. 1925), who pioneered the use 
of radio mikes to allow multiple actors to speak at once in 
M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), and 
Nashville (1975); and in Martin Scorsese's (b. 1942) Mean 
Streets (1973) and Alice Doesn 't Live Here Anymore ( 1 974) . 

Since the mid-1980s, low-budget and independent 
productions have continued an adventuresome approach 
to dialogue. This stems partially from independent film- 
makers' genuine desire to break new ground, but novel 
manipulations of dialogue have also moved to the fore 
because they are cheaper and more easily accomplished 
than extensive special effects or lush production values. 
Clear examples can be found in Louis Malle's My Dinner 
with Andre (1981), which confines the film to a dinnertime 
conversation between two friends; David Mamet's House of 
Games (1987), in which the characters speak in carefiJly 
polished cadences approaching blank verse; Gus Van Sant's 
My Own Private Idaho (1991), which hterally mixes 
Shakespeare with prosaic speech; and Julie Dash's 
Daughters of the Dust (1992), in which characters speak in 
a GuUah dialect. Finally, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino 
have made verbal dexterity downright fashionable. 

Yet big-budget blockbusters, which depend so heavily 
on earning back their investments with overseas distribu- 
tion, are less likely to prioritize their dialogue or to exploit 
the resources of language. An expensive release, such as 
Wolfgang Petersen's Troy (2004), incorporates speech only 
as necessary for narrative clarity, has the actors articulate 
each sentence pointedly (woodenly), and focuses audience 
attention instead on action sequences and special effects. 

The issue of international distribution brings up the 
one aspect of dialogue that opponents were right to fear — 
the fact that inclusion of national languages restricts audi- 
ence comprehension. Advocates of silent film felt that the 
cinema had discovered a universal language that would 
enhance international community. From one perspective, 
sound cinema has managed to continue that ideal: the 
international dominance of American cinema has been a 
tool of global English language dispersal. Audiences around 
the world have learned Enghsh, or accepted dubbing, 
or coped with subtides. The isolating effects of national 




language have primarily injured American viewers, who 
with less incentive to work through language difference, 
have cut themselves olF from most international cinema. 
The solutions to this drawback are educational and social: 
to embrace linguistic variety, not to bring narrative com- 
plexity back down to the level of pantomime. 

SEE ALSO Film History; Silent Cinema; Sound 

Altman, Rick, ed. Sound Theory/Sound Practice. New York: 
Routledge, 1992. 

Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Edited and 
translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia 

University Press, 1994. 

Chothia, Jean. Forging a Language: A Study of the Plays of Eugene 
O'Neill Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge 
University Press, 1979. 

Devereaux, Mary. '"Of Talk and Brown Furniture': The 
Aesthetics of Film Dialogue." Post Script 6 (1986): 32-52. 

Faulkner, Christopher. "Rene Clair, Marcel Pagnol, and the 
Social Dimension of Speech." Screen 35 (1994): 

Kozloff, Sarah. Overhearing Film Dialogue. Berkeley: University 
of California Press, 2000. 

Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. "The 
Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. In Fhe Movies in 
Our Midst: Documents in the Cultural History of Film in 
America, edited by Gerald Mast. Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1982: 321-333. 

Page, Norman. Speech in the English Novel London: Longman, 

Sarah Kozloff 




The word "diaspora" is derived from the Greek word 
diasperien. It denotes the dispersion of a population 
group or community of people from their country of 
birth or origin. Overseas diasporas or transnational com- 
munities are created by international migration, forced or 
voluntary, and are motivated by economic, political, and 
colonial factors. During classical antiquity, "diaspora" 
referred to the exodus and exile of the Jews from 
Palestine. Later historical references to "diaspora" are 
associated with the slave trade and forced migration of 
West Africans to the "New World" in the sixteenth 
century. Twentieth-century formations include the 
Palestinian and Armenian diasporas. More recent diaspo- 
ras originate from the Caribbean, Latin America, South 
and East Asia, and Central Europe. As a subject area and 
critical category of study, diaspora has become a theoret- 
ical tool in fdm studies, ethnic studies, and cultural 
studies, among other fields, and resonates in debates 
and critiques of migration, identity, nationalism, trans- 
nationality, and exile. 

The second half of the twentieth century, referred to 
by some demographers as "the century of migration," is 
distinguished by the magnitude, direction, and composi- 
tion of international migration, with women now con- 
stituting nearly 50 percent of international migrants. 
Several factors have accelerated the movement of people 
across borders: globalizing economic processes linked to 
the internationalization of capital and the labor market, 
the cumulative effects of political instability caused by 
ethnic strife and civil wars, population pressures, environ- 
mental degradation, human rights violations, and the 
decline of transportation costs. Taken together, these 
factors, along with worsening poverty that compounds 

the already vast inequalities among the world's 6.4 billion 
population, account for the "global migration crisis" at 
the beginning of the twenty-first century. It has affected 
an estimated 175 million people, who now reside outside 
their country of origin and whose destination increas- 
ingly is North America, Asia, and Western Europe. 
Globalization and geopolitics, along with the rise of 
transnational media, accelerate diasporic formations. 
Constituting "new" and hybrid ethnicities, diasporas 
disrupt the cultural and social practices of the societies 
they inhabit. They also contest accepted ideas about 
Western modernity and nationhood, especially racialized 
constructions related to citizenship. 


The dislocating effects of globalization, migrating cul- 
tures, and postcoloniality form the subtext of diasporic 
cinema. Thus this category of film is neither linguistically 
nor culturally monolithic. A number of scholars have 
discussed diasporic and exilic films as an international 
genre or movement consistent with the world today. 
Hamid Naficy outlines vital and nuanced distinctions 
between "diasporic," "exilic," and "postcolonial ethnic 
and identity" filmmakers, who collectively comprise 
"accented cinema" and, as he suggests, are in conversa- 
tion with dominant and alternative cinemas. 

However differentiated, though, diasporic films and 
other types of "accented" films share similar concerns, 
characteristics, and production practices. In culturally 
diverse and often compelling narratives and styles, they 
address the paradoxes of exile and the negotiation of 
difference and belonging in indifferent and frequently 



Diasporic Cinema 

b. Algiers, Algeria, 6 October 1944 

The Algerian director and writer Merzak Allouache 
consistently explores the displacement of exile and 
marginality of North Africans living in France and its 
former colony, Algeria. After studying at France's renowned 
film school, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Metiers de 
L'image et du Son, as well as graduating from Algeria's 
short-lived film school, Allouache worked in French 
television. His first feature film, Omar Gatlato (1976), 
presents in documentary style an expose of Algerian males 
who fear intimacy with women as much as alienation from 
male peers. The title is derived from the phrase gatlato al- 
mjula, roughly "a machismo that kills," and refers to the 
social practices that exacerbate male insecurity. The focus 
on a dynamic urban milieu and its youth — its street slang, 
rituals, and passion for popular culture — is a theme that 
runs through many of Allouache's films. 

Bab El-Oued City (1994) earned him international 
acclaim and put him in peril in Algeria. Its title refers to a 
working-class district of Algiers where Allouache grew up 
and which is a site of intense unrest. Allouache updates his 
focus on urban youth who, once struggling with a nation 
in the making, are now experiencing an increasing spiral of 
violence. It tells the story of an ordinary baker who flees 
for his life after impulsively ripping out a rooftop 
loudspeaker that incessantly broadcasts propaganda by 
religious activists. A warning about the dangers of 
replacing colonial despotism with theocratic 
authoritarianism, the film won the International Film 
Critics prize in the Un Certain Regard category at the 1 994 
Cannes Film Festival and that year's grand prize at the 
Arab Film Festival. In Algeria, Allouache faced enough 
political pressure to prompt his departure. 

Once in exile, Allouache used a comedic frame for 
Salut cousin! (1996), a diasporic and exilic film that 
features the related ordeals of two cousins from Algeria 
who navigate French society in different ways. Allouache 
laces the cousins' stories with enough empathy and sense 

of whimsy to temper what some call his customary 
fatalism. Allouache expanded his take on gender and 
diaspora in U Autre Monde {The Other World, 2001), 
which traces the arduous journey of a woman and her 
fiance, both born in France to Algerian immigrants, who 
travel to Algeria to experience a country they only 
previously "imagined." After her fiance — torn between his 
birthplace and his ancestral homeland — leaves for Algeria 
to join the military, the young woman dons a veil and 
follows, facing danger and further disorientation related to 
her own conflicting loyalties. 

This film, by a director who humanizes characters 
ordinarily understood through the lens of prejudice, 
highlights the contradictory sources of their vulnerability 
and survivability. Allouache has repeated this message in 
films that span nearly two decades, and which similarly 
forced him to straddle two nations with a shared, violent 
history as the colonizer and the colonized. His 
commitment to give voice to the disempowered is what 
gives his films their greatest weight. 


Omar Gatlato (1976), Un amour a Paris (A love in Paris, 
1987), L'Apres-Octobre (Following October, 1989), Bab 
El-Oued City (1994), Salut cousin! (Hey Cousin!, 1996), 
L'Amour est a Reinventer {Love Reinvented, segment "Dans 
la decapotable," 1996), Alger-Beyrouth: Pour memoire 
{Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir, 1998), LAutre Monde {The 
Other World, 2001), Chouchou (2003) 


Allouache, Merzak. Bab El-Oued: A Novel. Boulder, CO: 

L. Rienner, 1997. 
Malkmus, Lizbeth, and Roy Armes. Arab and African Eilm 

Making. London: Zed Books, 1991. 
Shafik, Viola. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. 

Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1998. 

Michael T. Martin 
Marilyn Yaquinto 

xenophobic communities and nation-states. Moreover, 
diasporic films, such as Vivre au paradis {Living in 
Paradise, 1998), set in France during the last years of 
the Algerian war of independence (1954-62), and Hop 

(2002), in which an innocent boy finds himself in trou- 
ble and separated from his father, foreground the struggle 
for recognition, community, and citizenship. As is evi- 
dent in Salut cousin! {LLey Cousin!, 1996), about two 



Diasporic Cinema 

Merzak Allouache. © pelletier micheline/corbis sygma. 

Algerian cousins in racially tense Paris, and Gegen die 
Wand {Head-On, 2004), which centers on a marriage of 
convenience between two German Turks, they also 
explore the ambivalence and contingency of diasporic 
identities. These films, and others such as Heremakono 
{Waiting for Happiness, 2002) and Le Grand voyage 
(2004), suggest a counterpoint to the dislocating experi- 
ence of global migrations, using journey narratives to 
interrogate the "homeless subject." 

Since the 1980s, alongside the emergence of post- 
colonial diasporic filmmaking, new and more complex 
accounts of the "national" and "national cinema" have 
evolved largely in response to the ascendance of transna- 
tional media and other supranational entities (multina- 
tional corporations) under global capitalism. As a critical 
category, national cinema presents problems: one can no 
longer define national cinema in terms of where films are 
produced and by whom, or by a comparative approach 
that differentiates between national cinemas. Diasporic 

cinema, like diasporas, problematizes national identity 
and the nation as an imagined and bounded territorial 
space. For example, in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid {\9?)7) , 
the characters' identities are framed by London's cosmo- 
politanism, whereas in Pieces d'identites {Pieces of Identity, 
1998), they are informed by a monolithic African (or 
continental) affiliation along with tribal distinctions. 

Diaspora cinema, paradoxically, comprises the global 
as a distinctive transnational style, as well as the local to 
reflect some manner of specificity. Diasporic cinema's 
political project expresses a transcendent realism, in 
which "home truths" about the social experience of 
postcoloniality are rendered transparent. An apt example 
is Drachenfutter {Dragon Chow, 1987), in which two 
displaced refugees — one Pakistani, the other Chinese — 
start a restaurant, whose viability is eventually thwarted 
by the insensitive immigration policies of their host 
country of West Germany. This feature also corresponds 
to and resonates with a growing corpus of films that 
address the fracture sociale, especially in First World 
societies, in which the gendered and marginalized lives 
of the underclass and growing economic disparities 
between social classes are explored. Examples include La 
Vie revee des anges {The Dreamlife of Angels, 1998) and 
Rosetta (1999). Diasporic cinema, however, is less sche- 
matic, theorized, and committed to being oppositional as 
a collective project than its precursor, the 1960s cinema 
of political engagement. Nevertheless, it heralds a 
renewed preoccupation with the global and historical 
affairs of the contemporary period. 


As South and East Asian, African, and Caribbean diaspo- 
ras disrupt the prevailing Christian and racialized delin- 
eation of Europe, nation-states in the European Union 
are undergoing economic and political integration and 
dramatic demographic changes. Since the 1980s film- 
makers, especially diasporic and exilic ones, have 
explored the emigre experience with increasing frequency 
and in greater depth. Accented cinema formations have 
developed in Britain (black and Asian film and video 
collectives), in the United States (Iranian, African 
American, and Asian American), and, to a lesser extent, 
in Canada (South Asian). 

Among filmmakers who reside in France, a cine heur, 
or heur cinemas, has evolved, exploring the preoccupa- 
tions and concerns of transnational migrant communities 
that have settled there. The word heur is French slang for 
"Arab" and signifies the ambivalence associated with 
bicultural identity despite French nationality. It also sig- 
nifies the distinction and tension between French of 
Maghreb ancestry and their North African immigrant 
parents. Les beurs constitute a distinctive bicultural 



Diasporic Cinema 

group. As the children of North African immigrants from 
Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco (the Maghreb), concen- 
trated particularly in the banlieues (housing projects on 
the peripheries of French cities), la generation heur 
attained prominence during the late 1970s amid racial 
tension, the rise of extreme right-wing movements (such 
as the Front National), and national debates about immi- 
gration, integration, and assimilation in France. 

Beur cinema, which has a kinship with hanlieue and 
"hip hop" cinemas, is part of a larger heur artistic tradi- 
tion and social movement in music, art, photography, 
theater, and literature. Beur films are for the most part 
narratives told in a realist mode that have popular appeal; 
they are shaped by a shared colonial experience and 
language (French) and, with few exceptions, are by men 
about male-centered narratives in which women are 
largely marginalized. Recurrent themes are the urban 
multiethnic realities of unemployment, street crime, pov- 
erty, and state surveillance and regulation; the institu- 
tional, social, and personal consequences of racism; the 
conflicts and tensions between North African and French 
cultures; the intergenerational conflicts between North 
African emigres and their beur children, especially with 
regard to patriarchal authority; and the tensions caused 
by uprootedness, exile, deterritorialization, nostalgia, 
escape, and repatriation. 

The more recent evolution of beur cinema, however, 
suggests that its composition and concerns are provi- 
sional, as some filmmakers make the transition to other 
areas of filmmaking in France and address VLOxv-beur 
subjects. Addressing themes related to beur (and hanlieue) 
cinema, the film Bye-Bye (1995) examines contemporary 
French society, which is becoming increasingly multi- 
ethnic, multiracial, hybridized, and fractured along class 
lines. Directed by Karim Dridi (b. 1961), a Franco- 
Tunisian filmmaker, Bye-Bye chronicles the anguished, 
violent, and indeterminate odyssey of Ismael, a Franco- 
Maghrebi who escorts his younger brother, Mouloud, 
south from Paris via Marseilles to their parents' "home- 
land" in Tunisia. By framing the narrative in the context 
of a journey, the film emphasizes two features of post- 
coloniality: the territorial divide between France and its 
former colonies and their diasporic settlement, and the 
cultural paradoxes of postcoloniality. These paradoxes are 
signified in an effective counterpoint, in which the 
imperatives of capitalism and pluralism contest Islamic 
traditions and practices, along with parental fealty. 
Neither side of this deterritorialized and dislocating space 
offers Ismael solace. 

Ismael's ambivalence, and Mouloud's unequivocal 
rejection of the "home country," underscores their gen- 
eration's displacement and break with tradition and fam- 
ilial, especially paternal, authority. At ease neither in 
French nor in Maghreb cultures, Ismael longs for another 
home (land), which attests to his marginality as a dia- 
sporic subject. Thus, in Bye-Bye the emigre experience 
forsakes the collective for the personal and exemplifies 
the existential characteristic of beur cinema. 

SEE ALSO National Cinema; Race and Ethnicity 

Bloom, Peter. "5f«r Cinema and the Politics of Location: French 
Immigration Politics and the Naming of a Film Movement." 
In The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media, edited 
by Marcia Landy, 44-62. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers 
University Press, 2001. 

Bluher, Dominique. "Hip-Hop Cinema in France." Camera 
Obscura 17, no. 4 (2001). 

Braziel, Jana Evans, and Anita Mannur, eds. Theorizing Diaspora: 
A Reader. Boston: Blackwell, 2003. 

Desai, Jigna. Beyond Bollywood: The Cultural Politics of South 
Asian Diasporic Film. New York: Routledge, 2004. 

Fielder, Adrian. "Poaching on Public Space: Urban Autonomous 

Zones in French Banlieue Films." In Cinema and the City: 
Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context, edited by Mark 
Shield and Tony Fitzmaurice. Boston: Blackwell, 2001. 

Higson, Andrew. "The Concept of National Cinema." Screen 30, 
no. 4 (1989): 36-46. 

Martin, Michael T., ed. Cinemas of the Black Diaspora. Detroit, 
MI: Wayne State University Press, 1995. 

, ed. New Latin American Cinema: Studies of National 

Cinemas. Vol. 2. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 

Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic 

Filmmaking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. 

Papastergiadis, Nikos. The Turbulence of Migration. Cambridge: 
Polity Press, 2000. 

Rueschmann, Eva, ed. Moving Pictures, Migrating Identities. 
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003. 

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: 

Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge, 1994. 

Tarr, Carrie. "Questions of Identity in Beur Cinema: From Tea 
in the Harem to Cheb'' Screen 34, no. 4 (1993): 321-342. 

Williams, Alan. Film and Nationalism. New Brunswick, NJ: 
Rutgers University Press, 2002. 

Michael T. Martin 
Marilyn Yaquinto 




The opening credit sequence of contemporary American 
films typically proclaim that the ensuing work is "a film 
by" a particular director. This assertive title is both an 
acknowledgment of professional responsibility (that the 
creative process is led by a central administrative figure) 
and an authorial intention (that the work in question is 
the product of a single, creative individual). However, 
within such a deceptively simple credit lies an implicit 
array of controversial assumptions about the position of 
the director. The significance of such a credit is histor- 
ically contingent: it depends on the film's given produc- 
tion context, as well as the changing professional status of 
the director from decade to decade. Indeed, the ubiquity 
of such a credit is a fairly recent phenomenon; in most 
cases during the classical era, movies were credited as 
being "authored" by the studio that produced them. 
Moreover, it is not simply that a credit such as "a Jay 
Roach Film" is potentially misleading; it also gives very 
little indication as to the precise nature of the director's 
creative enterprise. 

What, then, are the technical duties and professional 
responsibilities of the director? How do they differ 
according to a director's cultural, historical, and industrial 
situation? Why have certain professional and critical dis- 
courses encouraged us to regard the director as the prom- 
inent "authorial" voice among a hierarchy of film artists? 
Finally, what is the use-value of promoting the director as 
a "celebrity" — a creative personality whose name comes 
to signify quality, exclusivity, and/or fashionability? 
Answering these questions requires a consideration of 
the director's position within a hierarchy of film produc- 
tion given to structural fluctuation, as well as an analysis 

of the power dynamics involved in both authorial and 
star politics. 


In the business of film production, the designation of 
"director" is a somewhat enigmatic title. Comparatively 
speaking, most of the other principal creative personnel 
involved in filmmaking hold titles that give a fairly clear 
indication of their professional responsibilities. 
Generally, one individual is responsible for overseeing 
the labor that is relevant to a single facet of production, 
whether it be cinematography, writing, editing, music, 
sound, production design, or costumes. With the notable 
exception of the producer, however, the range of the 
director's tasks is quite broad, and involves coordinating 
innumerable creative activities throughout the course of 
developing, shooting, completing, and marketing a film. 

It shall be assumed here that the director is the 
individual who actively oversees the realization of a film 
from shooting script to finished product, harmoniously 
coordinating the creative activities of the key personnel 
involved in the production processes. He or she will liaise 
with each of these artists, deliberate over various expres- 
sive and/or technical options to be implemented, and 
arrive at a decision that is commensurate with the 
requirements of the developing work. Correspondingly, 
the director will also be answerable to the executive body 
that finances and/or distributes the work and therefore 
must ensure that production runs smoothly and within 
an allotted budget. The director's job, then, is twofold: to 
maintain a consistency of style and quality throughout 




production and ensure that the production itself proceeds 
efficiently and economically. 

In other words, before one considers the director's 
position in evaluative terms (as a potential author), one 
must come to a more objective understanding of the 
director's position in descriptive terms (as an effective 
delegate). Serving as the funnel through which all of the 
decisions affecting a film's form and style are exercised, a 
director's primary task is to cultivate and coordinate the 
creative contributions of a production company's princi- 
pal artists. In the interests of specificity and demystifica- 
tion, it is worth enumerating the various duties assigned 
to the director during all three stages of filmmaking: 
preproduction, production, and postproduction. 

During the preproduction stage, the director's 
responsibilities can be divided into four principle tasks: 
(1) collaborating with the writer(s) on the development 
of the script; (2) assisting the casting director in hiring 
appropriate actors, and conducting rehearsals; (3) coop- 
erating with the producer(s) in developing a practical 
shooting schedule; and (4) planning the overall visual 
"look" of the film with the production designers and 
the director of photography (DOP). The extent of a 
director's involvement in each of these phases varies 
according to production context and the director's per- 
sonal working habits. A director may insist on meticu- 
lously preplanning a film before beginning to shoot, 
which is the method preferred by Saryajit Ray (1921- 
1992), or, the director may treat the film organically, 
allowing it to develop spontaneously during the process 
of shooting. Wong Kar-wai (b. 1958), for example, fre- 
quently devises and shoots several different versions of a 
loosely scripted scenario before settling on one that will 
become the "official" film. 

Throughout the actual shooting of the work, the 
director must multitask efficiently, ensuring that all tasks 
are executed effectively, solving any unforeseen compli- 
cations that may arise during production. First, the direc- 
tor and the DOP will supervise the electricians and grips 
in the lighting of a set — ensuring the correct placement 
of lights, cutters, and nets. Second, all camerawork — 
including framing and composition, lens selection, and 
tracking shots — must be reviewed and potentially 
rehearsed with the DOP, camera operator, and focus 
puller. Third, he or she will consult the head carpenter, 
set dresser, and assistant director (AD) to ensure that 
there are no logistical problems with the staging of a 
scene. The director and the AD must also properly block 
and coach any extras appearing in the scene. Fourth, the 
director confers with the sound crew regarding the proper 
placement of microphones and any additional sound 
equipment. Finally, the director will provide the actors 
with instructions and suggestions, guiding them through 

the playing of a scene based on decisions agreed upon 
during rehearsals. Practical directions will be given to 
ensure that the actors stay in frame and compensate for 
any camera movement, but less concretely, the director 
will also coach actors through improvisations, modulat- 
ing the "tone" of their performances. 

It is at the completion of a take that the director's 
most crucial decision emerges: whether or not the photo- 
graphed action will be printed. If all of the above ele- 
ments have been fulfilled to his or her satisfaction, the 
director will order the shot to be taken to the lab for 
processing. The processed shot will most likely appear in 
the final cut of the film aftier being carefully scrutinized at 
the daily rushes by the principal crewmembers. Given the 
enormous amount of work required during the produc- 
tion stages, the average amount of time needed to shoot a 
modestly budgeted, 120-minute film is about forty days. 
Independent directors working with a small crew on a 
shoestring budget will usually take considerably less time. 
For example, while working for AIP Productions, Roger 
Gorman (b. 1926) was able to shoot eighty-minute 
exploitation films, such as Littk Shop of Horrors (1960), 
in three days. By contrast, Frances Ford Goppola (b. 1939) 
required over sixteen months to shoot the problem- 
laden art-house blockbuster. Apocalypse Now (1979). 

Once actual filming has finished, the director must 
preside over the completion of the work during postpro- 
duction. Again, the degree of a director's involvement in 
these stages varies according to historically determined 
production contexts and individual practice. Before 
1940, for example, a Hollywood director often had liter- 
ally no input in the cutting of a film; the footage was sent 
directly to the editing department, and the director might 
not even see it again until a rough cut was completed for 
previewing. By contrast, the contemporary digital manip- 
ulation of images has increased to such a degree that the 
director's close involvement in postproduction stages is 
often a necessity. Indeed, digital filmmaking has signifi- 
candy blurred the distinction between filmic creation and 
modification, and has therefore expanded the director's 
postproduction role dramatically. 

As in preproduction, there are four principal post- 
production areas in which a director's input is necessary: 
(1) editing, (2) visual effects, (3) music, and (4) sound. In 
most cases, an editor and director will develop the film's 
pace and rhythm, reinforce continuity between shots, 
trim moments of unwanted excess, and ensure that the 
montage generally serves to reinforce the work's intent. 
The visual effects category encompasses the manipulation 
of the raw footage by color timers, processing techni- 
cians, special effects designers, and an array of digital 
artists, compositors, and animators. Broadly speaking, a 
director will convey instructions to supervisors in each of 




these groups, indicating the specific "look" the director 
wishes to convey. Such post-filmic "treatment" afi^ecting 
the overall appearance of a work can range from Robert 
Altman's (b. 1925) decision to "preflash" the negative of 
The Long Goodbye (1973) in order to amplify the washed- 
out pastels of its hazy Los Angeles milieu, to Robert 
Rodriguez's (b. 1968) development of the entirely digital, 
black-and-white cityscape of Sin City (2005). The direc- 
tor will oversee a film's aural elements as well. In working 
with the composer, he might intimate how the score 
reinforces the affective intent of key sequences, accentu- 
ates notable action, or even organizes the structure of the 
montage. The director may also specify to the sound 
designer how various audio cues will function, indicate 
the expressive intent of ambient noise, and/or explain the 
interplay between aural effects and edits. A favorite com- 
poser might be relied upon — as in Danny Elfman's 
recurring scores for Tim Burton (b. 1958) — or in some 
rare cases, a director might personally compose the film's 
music (as Charlie Chaplin [1889-1977] did for his fea- 
tures), or co-design the sound (as David Lynch [b. 1946] 
ofiien does). 


In describing the various responsibilities of the director, 
it would seem that he or she occupies a central position 
within the cinema's creative division of labor. Despite 
this apparent centrality, however, it must be established 
that the title of "director" is not necessarily synonymous 
with the designation "author." Understanding the role of 
the director is an objective concern and does not require 
the subsequent appreciative assertion that he or she is the 
most important individual in this process. Nor should it 
be assumed that a director's supervisory status is ipso 
facto proof of his or her status as the center of the work's 
significance. Rather, the director's centrality should refer 
to his or her position within a system of creative labor. 
Again, a director is first and foremost a delegate — one 
whose primary duties are to coordinate numerous crea- 
tive endeavors in the interest of maintaining a consistent 
style and quality across an efficient production process. 
Given the collaborative nature of this process, it is impor- 
tant to understand the basic ways in which a director can 
work with key personnel within a filmmaking collective. 

Since the screenplay serves as the primary source 
material in the director's process of adaptation, the 
screenwriter and director ideally will collaborate 
closely during the preparation of a film's shooting 
script. While the writer(s) and director will have their 
own opinions about the work's nascent significance, 
they will strive to reach an objective understanding 
of the script's intent — one that represents an unfore- 
seen synthesis of their respective attitudes toward the 

material. In practical terms, this partnership may 
include identifying the work's central ideas, resolving 
any potentially disruptive ambiguities in the story, 
tightening narrative structure, and rewriting dialogue 
or adjusting characterization if necessary. Their work 
may continue through the shooting process itself 
should circumstances require further adjustments to 
be made. 

Again, the actual proactive involvement of the direc- 
tor will vary. Alain Resnais (b. 1922), for example, allows 
his screenwriters to have virtual autonomy in preparing 
their screenplay. Milos Forman (b. 1932), by contrast, 
will labor over a script with a writer, line by line. 
Directors may prefer to work on the script personally 
with a favored collaborator (as evidenced by the long- 
time partnership between Billy Wilder [1906-2002] 
and I. A. L. Diamond [1920-1988]), or film his or 
her own screenplay (Ousmane Sembene [b. 1923], 
Pier Paolo Pasolini [1922-1975], and Preston Sturges 
[1898-1959] are all prominent examples of director- 
screenwriters). Alternatively, a film's working script may 
emerge through improvisations overseen by the director 
during rehearsals: John Cassavetes (1924-1989) and 
Mike Leigh (b. 1943) are celebrated exemplars of this 
tendency. It is important to note, however, that if there is 
a substantial degree of financial investment in the film, 
investors may insist on approving every draft of the work 
in progress. Hollywood screenplays, for example, have 
been subject to the whims of producers, executives, cen- 
sorial boards, and even stars — all of whom have wielded 
creative authority over the majority of screenwriters and 

Just as the shooting script is frequently outside of the 
director's complete control, the casting of a film's princi- 
pal roles is often dictated by the economic logic of the 
star system, especially in mainstream Hollywood cinema. 
Orson Welles (1915-1985), for example, may have des- 
paired at Universal's insistence on casting Charlton 
Heston as a Mexican in Touch of Evil (1958), but the 
casting of the film's principal players was not his decision 
to make. In the studio era, a contracted star might be 
assigned to a particular film, while contemporary stars 
may be "packaged" along with a screenplay by a talent 
agency as part of a non-negotiable deal. However, the 
director typically has much more independence in the 
casting of secondary and minor roles. The director will 
oversee the work of the casting director, who will organ- 
ize auditions for these roles and/or present the director 
and producer(s) with a selection of actors to handpick for 
smaller parts. 

For certain directors, their influence in the casting of 
the film is of paramount importance. Sergei Eisenstein's 
(1898-1948) reliance on typage in the casting of his early 




Soviet films is a good example, with the director often 
personally selecting the ideal faces needed to personify 
particular ideological positions. John Waters's (b. 1946) 
entire filmography is founded upon casting director Pat 
Moran's selection of the perfect assortment of lumpen 
freaks. Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Paul Morrissey 
(b. 1938) transformed casting into a quasi-political act, 
by selecting whoever happened to be hanging around the 
Factory and proclaiming them to be instant "movie 
stars." Other directors may choose to work with favorite 
actors or cultivate a stock company. Such reliance on 
familiar faces not only potentially simplifies communica- 
tion between actor and director, but it may also serve as a 
kind of expressive shorthand within the film itself. John 
Wayne (1907-1979), for example, is John Ford's (1894- 
1973) idealized emblem of the frontier's potential for 
self-determination, while Liv UUman (b. 1938), Bibi 
Andersson (b. 1935), and Max von Sydow (b. 1929) 
are not so much part of Ingmar Bergman's (b. 1918) 
"troupe" as they are his recurring muses and creative 

For certain directors, performance is the very heart 
of cinematic art. Jean Renoir (1894-1979) provides the 
most prestigious example of a humanist aesthetic: his 
famed deep-focus photography, elaborate tracking shots, 
and long takes represent a concerted, empathetic effort to 
preserve the integrity of his actors' performances within a 
fully realized social world. Other directors frequently 
showcase the technical ingenuity of gifted actors. Elia 
Kazan's (1909-2003) close involvement with Lee 
Strasberg and Stella Adler in the cultivation of 
American "method" acting often resulted in films that 
foregrounded the intense psychodynamics of their prin- 
cipal characters. Occasionally, the better part of a direc- 
tor's career might be dedicated to exploring a single 
aaor's persona. Examples include Zhang Yimou's 
(b. 1951) early feature-length "tributes" to Gong Li and 
Josef von Sternberg's (1894-1969) obsession with Marlene 
Dietrich — the radiant focal point of his films' mise-en-scene. 
In all of these cases, the director's function is to facilitate the 
actor's cultivation of a performance that will satisfy a shared 
aesthetic ambition. Actual working methods might range 
from encouraging improvisation (Shirley Clarke [1919— 
1997]), the use of provocation and multiple takes (Stanley 
Kubrick [1928-1999]), or blatant manipulation and intim- 
idation (Roman Polanski [b. 1933]). 

Often at complete variance with the "actor's direc- 
tor" is the filmmaker who aspires to a rigorous aestheti- 
cism, treating the artistic process as an opportunity to 
explore the parameters of the medium itself Such a 
director's fellow artists might be encouraged to consider 
the filmic image as a graphic design, rather than an 
indexical referent to a profilmic reality. In such cases, 
the production designer and director of photography are 

frequently the formalist director's chief collaborators. In 
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and 
Prospero's Books (1991), for example, production design- 
ers Jan Roelfs and Ben van Os and director Peter 
Greenaway (b. 1942) treat the screen like a canvas, creat- 
ing an intricately layered onscreen space and occasionally 
"writing" on the surface of the screen itself. For Alfred 
Hitchcock's (1899-1980) color films of the 1950s, Hal 
Pereira (1905-1983) helped the director devise some of 
his most superbly crafted set pieces: the multi-windowed 
courtyard that provides voyeuristic glimpses of multiple 
levels of action in Rear Window (1954) is a triumph of 
design. Another example is the sumptuous formalism of 
Sally Potter's (b. 1949) work since The Tango Lesson 
(1997), which can largely be attributed to her recurring 
collaboration with designer Carlos Conti. 

Congruently, the DOP is equipped with the techni- 
cal knowledge to help a director visually realize his or her 
conception of the significance, mood, and/or affective 
intent. Bernardo Bertolucci's (b. 1940) most stylized 
efforts — particularly // Conformista {The Conformist, 
1970) — are a result of Vittorio Storaro's (b. 1940) mas- 
tery of expressive lighting and color. The invariable steely 
iciness of David Cronenberg's (b. 1943) films since Dead 
Ringers (1988) is largely cultivated by Peter Suschitzky 
(b. 1941), just as the warm romanticism and nostalgia 
that pervades Woody Allen's (b. 1935) work in the late 
1970s and early 1980s can primarily be attributed to 
Gordon Willis's (b. 1931) photography. Or, we might 
reference the lyricism of F. W. Murnau's (1888-1931) 
"unchained," moving camera in Der Letzte Mann {The 
Last Laugh, 1924) — an innovation developed by master 
cinematographer Karl Freimd (1890-1969). Despite 
Andrew Sarris's assertion that an auteur must be "techni- 
cally proficient," the majority of directors in his catalog of 
great filmmakers rely heavily on the technological ingen- 
uity of the DOP to develop and realize their visual ideas. 

On a similar note, a skilled editor effectively shapes a 
film's structure, pace, and intended significance. Again, 
directors may formulate an outline of their intent, but 
most often the creative onus is on the editor to bring this 
objective to fruition. Even a director as heralded as 
Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) is reliant on the precision 
and innate sense of timing of his long-time editor, 
Thelma Schoonmaker. Certain directors believe montage 
to be the essence of their medium and develop an aes- 
thetic that foregrounds the expressive potential of the 
various relations between shots. Eisenstein, Vsevolod 
Pudovkin (1893-1953), and Aleksandr Dovzhenko 
(1894-1956) — the chief exponents of Soviet montage — 
are the obvious examples here. As equally inventive are 
prominent figures from the various international "new 
waves" of the 1960s, whose editing styles are informed by 
an irreverent admixture of radical politics, anti-classicism, 




Provocation embodied by the drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey) in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987). EVERETT 


and blistering energy. Notable exemplars of such politi- 
cized dynamism include Glauber Rocha (1938-1981), 
Vera Cliytilov4 (b. 1929), and Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930). 

While the pyrotechnic editing evident in much con- 
temporary commercial filmmaking is frequendy reviled for 
its perceived pandering to decreasing audience attention 
spans, several directors have turned this tendency to their 
creative advantage. Taking their cue from the use of 
sampling in hip-hop music, director Darren Aronofsky 
(b. 1969) and editor Jay Rabinowitz devised a montage for 
Requiem for a Dream (2000) that is a lightning-fast form 
of crosscutting synched with exaggerated sound effects. 
Harmony Korine (b. 1973) and Valdis Oskarsdottir devel- 
oped an editing style for Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) that 
emulates the elliptical and erratic perception of the schiz- 
ophrenic protagonist. Also noteworthy are John Woo's 
(b. 1946) dynamic alterations between expertly choreo- 
graphed, slow-motion action and almost subliminally fast 
cutting in Hard Boiled (1992) and Face/Off (1997)— 

a contemporary update of a style devised by Sam 
Peckinpah (1925-1984) for the bloody climax of The 
Wild Bunch (1969). Conversely, a director's signature style 
may be founded upon a preference for minimal edits and a 
long-take aesthetic. Kenji Mizoguchi's (1898-1956) delicate 
exploration of an intricately crafted mise-en-scene, Andrei 
Tarkovsky's (1932-1986) attempts to evoke the felt dura- 
tion of time, and Chantal Akerman's (b. 1950) minimalist 
emphasis on the domestic labor of her female characters are 
notable examples. Contemporary artists such as Tsai Ming- 
hang (b. 1957), Abbas Kiarostami (b. 1940), Michael 
Haneke (b. 1942), and Bela Tarr (b. 1955) continue this 
tradition, collaborating with their various editors to produce 
slowly paced films that reward patient, studied attention. 

The most potentially contentious of the director's 
various working relationships is with the producer. Since 
the producer's chief tasks are to secure finances and 
ensure that filming adheres to schedule and budget, the 




partnership between producer and director is frequently 
an anxious one. During preproduction, they will select 
shooting sites found by location scouts based on avail- 
ability, affordability, and practicality. Script changes will 
be discussed and approved, and casting choices finalized. 
A shooting schedule will be devised by a production 
manager in order to maximize the availability of the 
principal actors, local crew, and locations. The schedule 
is of vital importance, as it represents the culmination of 
all approved, pre-planned aesthetic decisions that will 
affect the completed film. The more expensive the pro- 
duction, the more inflexible is a director's commitment 
to the schedule and the shooting script. Producers are 
almost always present during a shoot, keeping a close eye 
on the proceedings, and they will often make suggestions 
regarding the director's rough cut of a film before it is 
delivered to the studio for testing and/or distribution. 

On the one hand, a positive working relationship can 
lead to an extremely creative partnership, as evidenced by 
the work of producer Val Lewton (1904-1951) and direc- 
tor Jacques Tourneur (1904—1977) collaborative RKO. 

On the other, certain directors perceive the producer's 
close involvement as interference with his or her creative 
autonomy, and their relationship to producers is typically 
hostile. Indeed, Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957), Orson 
Welles, and Nicholas Ray (1911-1979) are often charac- 
terized as artist-martyrs whose Hollywood careers were 
destroyed by gross materialists. During the late 1930s, 
the emerging Directors Guild made a concentrated effort 
to secure the director's right to supervise the first rough 
cut, participate in casting and script development, and 
wield more authority during the actual production stages. 
However, it is also worth noting that the creative tensions 
that arise between producers and directors during the most 
tempestuous production circumstances can sometimes 
yield riches. For example, Gone with the Wind (1939) 
was produced amidst stormy relationships between pro- 
ducer David O. Selznick and the various directors hired 
and fired from work on the film, including Victor Fleming 
(1889-1949), George Cukor (1899-1983), and Sam 
Wood (1883-1949), yet it went on to become the most 
vsddely seen American movie in history. 




The history of the producer/direaor relationship is quite 
complex, especially throughout the changing infrastructure 
of the studio system in the United States. In fact, the direc- 
tor's role, responsibilities, and level of authority can shift 
quite dramatically depending upon the larger industrial 
organization of filmmaking. As a brief case study, it is usehJ 
to summarize the historical transformation of the Hollywood 
director from cameraman to contemporary celebrity. 

Prior to the standardization of multi-shot narrative 
films around 1905, cameramen such as William K.L. 
Dickson, Billy Bitzer, and Edwin S. Porter selected the 
subject matter, arranged, shot, and edited a scenario. 
Exhibitors' demand for a higher output necessitated a 
more detailed division of labor among manufacturers. 
Therefore, between 1907 and 1909, a second individ- 
ual — the director — was contracted to stage the action 
while the cameraman was relegated to the purely techni- 
cal role of filming. During this brief period, in which 
filmmaking labor began its centralization within studio 
conditions, the role of the director and producer was 
synonymous, with individuals such as D.W. Griffith 
(1875-1948) and Alice Guy (1873-1968) occupying 
the dual position of both artist and manager. With the 
introduction of the multiple-reel feature and a more effi- 
cient distribution system between 1909 and 1914, a single 
direaor could no longer keep up with the technical 
demands or rapidity of production. Labor became even 
more departmentalized, with a direaor heading a small unit 
working from a detailed continuity script — a procedure 
developed in 1913 by the first producer-direaor proper, 
Thomas Ince (1882-1924), during his tenure at Mutual. 

As the classically structured, multiple-reel feature 

became the norm, the director's technical responsibilities 
and managerial decisions actually decreased. Encroaching 
upon the director's administrative capacities, the "central 
producer" came to ascendancy as the Hollywood system 
achieved consolidation between 1914 and the late 1920s. 
These "efficiency experts" assumed managerial control of 
planning and controlling a continuity script, with the 
director relegated to the task of its execution. Creative 
decisions once wielded by the director were now coordi- 
nated by a central producer in advance of the director's 
involvement in the filmmaking process. Such figures as 
Allan Dwan (1885-1981), Cecil B. De MiUe (1881- 
1959), and Lois Weber (1881-1939) became studio 
functionaries who no longer legally controlled the prod- 
uct on which they labored; instead, they worked under 
the direct orders of a studio's central producer (such as 
MGM's production chief, Irving Thalberg). 

By 1931, production was relegated to a number of 
generically specific units under the supervision of a pro- 
duction chief responsible for overseeing six to eight films 
a year. If there were author-figures in classical 

Hollywood, then it is these producers who best occupy 
the role, as they held the ultimate authority over a film at 
every level of production from script development to 
final editing. Contract directors were often quite literally 
reduced to a glorified stage director, chiefly responsible 
for supervising the dramatic action of the performers and 
largely adhering to predefined "house" styles. Assigned 
by studio executives to six different pre-planned projects 
a year, a director might have only one to two weeks to 
prepare for shooting. 

The director's creative fortunes changed only after 
the Directors Guild's first president, Frank Capra (1897- 
1991), threatened to call a general directors' strike in 
1939. An executive decision was made to create the 
"hyphenate" category of "producer-director" in order 
to placate the guild. From then on, those elite filmmakers 
who could select their own writer, cast, and cameraman 
and were allowed to supervise production at all levels 
held the designation of producer-director. Preparation 
time and salaries were increased, and A-list directors were 
responsible for making only two to three films a year — 
either as freelance directors, or as the head of their own 
in-house independent units. Capra, Hitchcock, Fritz 
Lang (1890-1976), and Leo McCarey (1898-1969) all 
held this quasi-independent status in the late 1940s. 

With the development of the package-unit system in 
the mid- 1940s, directors were granted even more creative 
autonomy. As the studios sought to cut their overhead 
expenses, especially following the court-ordered divest- 
iture of their theater chains in 1948 and declining box- 
office receipts, the shift from in-house units to a more 
decentralized system was accelerated. As the majors now 
had to distribute their films on a film-by-film basis, 
directors became important means of pre-selling and 
differentiating their product. Films were "packaged" by 
producers, and increasingly by talent agencies, both of 
whom could draw on an industry-wide pool of talent to 
produce a film. A director would lead a production 
company that was assembled on a short-term basis and 
dissolved after their work was completed. Interestingly, 
many of the major Hollywood stylists beloved by French 
and American auteur critics emerge during this period, 
including Max Ophiils (1902-1957), Vincente Minnelli 
(1903-1986), Otto Preminger (1906-1986), and Douglas 
Sirk (1897-1987). In other words, the authorial "signa- 
tures" of so-called Hollywood auteurs emerged and were 
subsumed within the economic logic of disaggregated 
(rather than centralized) film production. 

Since the absorption of the studios by major media 
conglomerates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 
director has become an even more valuable commodity 
in a production horizon dominated by blockbusters and 
franchises designed to generate profits in multiple ancillary 




b. Vienna, Austria, 22 September 1885, d. 12 May 1957 

Probably the most iconic image of the working director is 
conjured up in the person of Erich "von" Stroheim: a 
monocled European despot stalking the set and barking 
orders through a bullhorn. Indeed, von Stroheim's persona 
of an actor — "the man you love to hate" — was equal parts 
tyrannical egoist and unappreciated genius. Fittingly, in 
most critical retrospectives of his career, von Stroheim is 
typically represented as either a megalomaniac of 
monstrous proportions or the victim of studio 

Erich Oswald Stroheim emigrated to the United States 
from his native Vienna, Austria, in 1909. The son of a 
Jewish hat manufacturer, he left the country penniless and 
disgraced after the family business failed, and the Austrian 
army discharged him as an invalid after five months of 
service. Little is known about his early years in America, but 
by the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 1915 to work as an 
extra, he had created an elaborate biography for himself, 
claiming to be a German aristocrat with a distinguished 
record in the imperial army. Simultaneously cultivating 
experience as both an actor and assistant director, von 
Stroheim directed his first feature. Blind Husbands (1919), 
to considerable commercial and critical success. 

All of his films are concerned with characters who 
degrade themselves in the pursuit of money, sex, and/or 
status. What is remarkable about von Stroheim's 
representations of these endeavors, however, is the density of 
sociocultural detail against which they are enacted. His two 
masterpieces, Greed {\92A) and The Wedding March (1928), 
recreate prewar San Francisco and Vienna in obsessive detail. 
Not simply exercises in slavish verisimilitude, the films are 
informed by the naturalism of Emile Zola, so the degeneracy 
of the films' characters is always determined by 
circumstances and environment. Greed's shambling 
protagonist fumbles his way from the filth of Polk Street to 
the blistering hell of Death Valley, and the decline of the 
debauched aristocrats in The Wedding March is a microcosm 
of the general collapse of the Hapsburg empire. 

The exactitude of Von Stroheim's vision and 
struggles against the emerging studio system make him a 
cause celebre for auteur theorists. Conversely, studio 
apologists reference his career as a cautionary tale for 
egomaniacal filmmakers. Most of von Stroheim's work is 
incomplete, truncated, or has been lost entirely. His 
excesses on Merry-Go-Round (1923) prompted Universal's 
head of production, Irving Thalberg, to fire him after 
shooting only one-fourth of the film. Thalberg also 
ordered Greed to be reduced from forty-seven reels to a 
mere ten, and The Wedding March was similarly 
eviscerated under the order of Pat Powers at Paramount. 
Similarly, his final two projects — Queen Kelly and Walking 
Down Broadway — are severely truncated as well. Whatever 
one's opinions of his ambitions, von Stroheim remains one 
of the most controversial and uncompromising filmmakers 
in Hollywood history. 


As Director: Blind Husbands (1919), Foolish Wives (1922), 
Greed (1924), The Wedding March (1928), Queen Kelly 
(1929); As Actor: Hearts of the World (1918), Blind 
Husbands (1919), The Great Gabbo (1929), As You Desire 
Me (1932), La Grand illusion (Grand Illusion, 1937), Five 
Graves to Cairo (1943), The Great Flamarion (1945), 
Sunset Boulevard (1950) 


Curtiss, Thomas Quinn. Von Stroheim. New York: Farrar, 

Straus and Giroux, 1971. 
Koszarkski, Richard. The Man You Loved to Hate: Erich von 

Stroheim and Hollywood. Oxford and New York: Oxford 

University Press, 1983. 
Lennig, Arthur. Stroheim. Lexington: University Press of 

Kentucky, 2000. 
Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Greed. London: British Film Institute, 


Thomson, David. "Stroheim and Seeing Money." In The 
Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, New 
York: Knopf, 2005. 

Aaron E. N. Taylor 

markets. As labor is now almost exclusively outsourced, a 
director frequently acts as a lynchpin within a temporary, 
electronically maintained network of technicians, pro- 

grammers, and artisans — many of whom he will not even 
meet in person. In order to remain visible within a highly 
differentiated and hit-driven market, a commercially sawy. 




Erich von Stroheim in Foolish Wives (1922). EVERETT 

freelance direaor is encxiuraged to develop an ostentatious 
style that will attract a younger and lucrative demographic. 
Examples include the flamboyant, but ultimately super- 
ficial post-classical aesthetics of such "shooters" as McG 
(b. Joseph McGinty Nichol in 1970), Brett Ratner 
(b. 1969), David Fincher (b. 1962), Michael Bay (b. 1965), 
and Gore Verbinski (b. 1964). For these music video 
alumni, "style" is no longer regarded romantically as an 
indication of personal expressivity; instead, it is motivated 
by a commercial logic (the acquisition and retention of 
work) and its value is purely fiscal. 

The current prominence of the director's position is 
underlined by the substantial financial compensation 
awarded in the United States. In 2004, for example, the 
minimum salary of a director working on a film whose 
budget exceeded $1.5 miUion was $13,423 per week. Of 
course, salaries can climb much higher depending upon the 
profitability of the director's past films. Warner Bros., for 
example, paid Peter Jackson over $20 million against 
twenty percent of the grosses to write, direct, and produce 
the 2005 remake of King Kong. Other commercially suc- 
cessfiil Hollywood direaors whose fee rims into eight fig- 

ures include Robert Zemeckis (b. 1952), M. Night 
Shyamalan (b. 1970), and Steven Spielberg (b. 1946). 
However, as an indication of the rising star power of the 
director, it has become a frequent practice for such com- 
mercially successful filmmakers to negotiate deals that con- 
sist of low upfront fees compensated with higher percentage 
points from their film's gross profits. As the "hyphenates" 
continue to gain power and influence, their business acu- 
men has become as important as their creative powers. 

Moreover, as Warren Buckland argues, contempo- 
rary Hollywood directors achieve the status of auteur not 
simply because a recurring personal style is manifested in 
the treatment of his or her material; rather, they wield 
control over the production, distribution, and exhibition 
of their work. By "vertically integrating" all three stages 
of filmmaking, they exert considerable influence over 
the external conditions of their authorship: finances, 
talent, and distribution. Spielberg and George Lucas 
(b. 1944) — the premier twenty-first century filmmaker- 
moguls — are notable as directors, producers, owners of 
filmmaking facilities, and holders of lucrative franchises 
because their integrated labor is personally, rather than 
externally, controlled. 

Thus, the contemporary celebrity director has 
become a brand image based on singularity, familiarity, 
and reliability. Hollywood has found the myth of the 
auteur highly congenial to contemporary business practi- 
ces in that it promotes a sense of product continuity. Yet 
to invoke the director's name is not necessarily to invoke 
an author; a manufactured authorial signature merely 
evokes a series of pleasurable expectations on behalf of 
the viewer. Attributing a film to a single creative individ- 
ual is a strategy designed to remind viewers of a previ- 
ously enjoyed product in the hopes that they will pay to 
repeat a similar experience. Major studios care litde about 
ascribing creative authority to the director's name. 
Indeed, studios are quick to stress multiple authorial 
sources if they believe such emphasis will contribute to 
a film's marketability — hence the contemporary prolifer- 
ation of promotional taglines that link a film to the past 
commercial successes of unspecified "creators," pro- 
ducers, and even writers. 

While the conception of "style" and its relation to 
"personal expression" retains residual romantic connota- 
tions in the international art cinema tradition, the 
"author-value" of the director has become increasingly 
commodified in a global marketplace. With exhibitors in 
most countries importing over 85 percent of their films 
from Hollywood, international festival circuits are emerg- 
ing as the primary means for art films to secure distribu- 
tion. In North America, art cinema has been perceived as 
a "director's cinema" since the 1950s, when films 
directed by Luis Bunuel (1900-1983), Federico Fellini 




b. New York, New York, 26 July 1928, d. 7 March 1999 

Renowned for the icy, near-clinical elegance with which he 
represents human folly, obsession, and perversion, Stanley 
Kubrick produced thirteen feature films spanning most of 
the major genres, many of which are regarded as canonical. 
His work exhibits a near-metaphysical preoccupation with 
geometrical design that often finds expression within 
narrative situations featuring passionate characters who 
flail and crash against the boundaries of a rigorously 
formal(ized) world. 

With little patience for formal education, Kubrick 
spent most of his adolescence in the Bronx, New York, 
frequenting chess clubs and taking photographs for Look 
magazine. Using his savings from a Look photo-essay on 
boxing, Kubrick made his film debut. Day of the Fight 
(1951), a srxteen-minute documentary on boxer Walter 
Carrier. This early short demonstrates two of Kubrick's 
stylistic trademarks: elaborately choreographed hand-held 
camera work and the use of available light. Kubrick's first 
independent features were Fear and Desire (1953), a 
psychosexual war thriller that he subsequently disowned, 
and the hard-boiled, occasionally surreal Killer's Kiss (1955). 

During this period of apprenticeship, Kubrick's 
technical fastidiousness and insistence on complete creative 
control brought him to the attention of United Artists, 
which distributed his heist thriller. The Killing (1956). Yet 
they also drew the ire of producer-star Kirk Douglas during 
filming of Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). 
Resolving not to be compromised again by the restrictions 
of studio filmmaking, Kubrick relocated to MGM British 
Studios, at Borehamwood, England, where he directed his 
remaining work with near-complete autonomy. 

His remaining eight films are uncompromising 
studies of violence, sexual pathology, and the limitations 
of rationality. Lolita (1962) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) 
examine the sexual frustrations that drive their ostensibly 
cultivated male protagonists to ruin. Dr. Strangelove 
(1964) and Full Metal jacket (1987) offer devastating 
portraits of an American military ethos hell-bent for an 
apocalypse. A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining 
(1980) explore the confluence of culture and murder, with 

a Beethoven-loving sadist in the former and a novelist 
whose failures lead to psychosis in the latter. While 2001: 
A Space Odyssey (1968) depicts a near-mystical cycle of 
humanity's discovery of and transcendence over 
technology, Barry Lyndon (1975) charts the social ascent 
and decline of an eighteenth-century Irish rogue; both are 
technically astounding critical essays on the cultural 
imperative of progress. 

Throughout his independent work, Kubrick 
continually pushed technical boundaries, using "Slitscan 
photography" in 2001, candlelight in Barry Lyndon, and 
extensive Steadicam tracking shots in The Shining. Careful 
cultivation of his actors' performances has resulted in some 
of the most memorable characterizations in cinematic 
history (Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, Malcolm 
McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, and Jack Nicholson in 
The Shining). Above all, Kubrick's films are structured 
with mathematical intricacy, and their ambiguous 
emotional address is nearly unprecedented in commercial 


The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Lolita (1962), Dr 
Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 
the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A 
Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The 
Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Eyes Wide Shut 


Baxter, John. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. New York: 

Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1997. 
Chion, Michel. Kubrick's Cinema Odyssey. Translated by 

Claudia Gorbman. London: British Film Institute, 2002. 

Falsetto, Mario. Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic 
Analysis. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001. 

Nelson, Thomas Allen. Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze. 
Expanded ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 

Walker, Alexander, Sybil Taylor, and Ulrich Ruchti. Stanley 
Kubrick, Director. Revised and expanded ed. New York: 
Norton, 1999. 

Aaron E. N. Taylor 



Stanley Kubrick on the set of Barry Lyndon ( 1975). 

(1920-1993), Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998), Franfois 
Truffaut (1932-1984), and others achieved substantial 
box-office success in the emerging art house scene. 
However, the cultural cachet of the "name" director has 
assumed even greater prominence, as the star status of the 
director is now the imperative that largely drives the 
economics of the art house market. Certainly, to promote 
such names as Pedro Almodovar (b. 1949), Catherine 
Breillat (b. 1948), Jane Campion (b. 1954), Hou Hsiao- 
Hsien (b. 1947), Mohsen Makhmaibaf (b. 1957), Mira 
Nair (b. 1957), Idrissa Ouedraogo (b. 1954), Walter 
Salles (b. 1956), or Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is to portend 
a unique cinematic experience, attributed to the artistry 
of a singular filmmaker. Yet one must also recognize that 
this authorial status is both a political and economic 


strategy maintained within the high-stakes business of a 
global culture market. Now more than ever, the director 
is a conflicted figure, owing a divided allegiance to the 
demands of both art and commerce. 

SEE ALSO Auteur Theory and Authorship; Mise-en-scene; 
Production Process 


"Basic Agreement of 2005." Directors Guild of America Inc. 

Bogdanovich, Peter. Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with 
Legendary Film Directors. New York: Knopf, 1997. 

Bordwell, David, Staiger, Janet, and Kristin Tliompson. The 
Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of 
Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 

Buckland, Warren. "The Role of the Auteur in the Age of the 
Blockbuster: Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks." In Movie 
Blockbusters, edited by Julian Stringer, 84-98. London and 
New York: Roudedge, 2003. 

Lumet, Sidney. Making Movies. New York: Knopf, 1995. 

Nichols, Bill. "Discovering Form, Inferring Meaning: New 

Cinemas and the Festival Circuit." Film Quarterly 41, no. 3 

(1994): 16-30. 

Perez, Gilberto. The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium. 
Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998. 

Perkins, V. F. Film as Film. London and New York: Penguin, 

Rothman, Jack. Hollywood in Wide Angle: How Directors View 
Filmmaking. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004. 

Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 
1929-1968. New York: Dutton, 1968. 

. "Notes on the Auteur Theory." In Film Theory and 

Criticism: Introductory Readings. 6th ed., edited by Leo Braudy 
and Marshall Cohen, 561-565. Oxford and New York: 
Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Tirard, Laurent. Moviemakers' Master Class: Private Lessons from 
the World's Foremost Directors. New York: Faber and Faber, 

Wiildnson, Charles. The Working Director. Studio City, CA: 
Michael Wiese Productions, 2005. 

Aaron E. N. Taylor 




Naturally, the disaster film began by accident. When 
Georges Melies (1861-1938) jammed his camera and a 
bus inexplicably turned into a hearse, the accidental 
merging of two documentary images created the spectacle 
of disaster. That begat films such as Collision and 
Shipwreck at Sea (1898). Ever since, audiences have rel- 
ished the vicarious terror and awesome spectacle of films 
where comfort turns into catastrophe. 

The disaster film is defined less by conventions and 
imagery than by its plot situation: a community con- 
fronts natural or supernatural annihilation. As a result, 
the disaster tends to overlap several more formal genres. 
Nonetheless, it is possible to define ten basic types — four 
by the nature of the threat, five by the situation, and the 
last by tone. 


One group of disaster films features attack by creatures, 
from ants normal {The Naked Jungle, 1954) or abnormal 
{Them!, 1954) to elephants {Elephant Walk, 1954). 
Monsters created by nature run amok include The 
Giant Gila Monster (1959) and the mutants Godzilla, 
Mothra, Reptilicus, Gappa, and Rodan, which relived 
Japan's atomic nightmare. The United States's 1950s 
nuclear anxieties spawned more modest monsters, from 
the Black Lagoon, from 20,000 fathoms, and from 
beneath the sea. Smaller threats undercut mankind's 
higher link on the Great Chain of Being, most notably 
in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1961), but also in the 
second threatening group, "bully bacteria." 

Seen killers — such as David Cronenberg's phallic 
little bleeders in Shivers (or The Parasite Murders, 

1975) — are terrifying, but those unseen are worse. 
Anthrax (2001) anticipated North America's post-9/11 
fear of chemical attack, and Wolfgang Petersen's 
Outbreak (1995) unleashed an ebola crisis. The television 
film Plague Fighters (1996) reminds us that a disaster film 
can also be a documentary. 

Worse than terrestrial creatures, aliens frighten 
whether they are peaceful {The Day the Earth Stood 
Still, 1951), malevolent {Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 
1956; 1978), or even vegetable {The Thing, 1951). Man 
creates his own monsters from mud {Der Golem, 1920), 
body parts {Frankenstein, 1931), or computer {Westworld, 
1974). The monster is a primeval shapeless evil in The 
Quatermass Experiment (or The Creeping Unknown, 
1955) and The Green Slime (1969). Ang Lee's Hulk 
(2003) provides a green personification of rage — a mon- 
ster for our post-psychoanalytic age. These first three 
types overlap with the horror and science-fiction film, 
with their threats of dehumanization and our suppressed 
dark energies. 

The unleashed elements can be even crueller than 
nature's creatures. Volcanoes have lavished lava from The 
Last Days of Pompeii (1908) to Deep Core (2000). 
Whether working with wind {The Hurricane, 1937), 
water (77?^ Rains Came, 1939), both wind and water 
{The Perfect Storm, 2000), or quaking earth 
{Earthquake, 1974), these films draw moral weight from 
the renewal stories of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah. 
Natural-disaster films remind us that our technology 
shrinks before the forces of nature. The communal con- 
frontation with nature distinguishes the disaster film 
from the action-adventure genre that centers on individ- 
ual hero and human villainy. 



Disaster Films 

Urban disaster in The Towering Inferno (Irwin Allen, 


Disasters based on situations begin with cities 
destroyed (the "edifice wrecks" cycle), which shatter our 
urban security. From Pompeii to the terrorist attack on 
New York on September 11, 2001, films have imagined 
the destruction of our cities, which are emblems of both 
community and comfort. The Towering Inferno (1974) 
gave a modern Babel a fire on the eighty-fifth floor. In 
The Neptune Factor (1973) giant fish threaten an under- 
water living experiment. Invasion USA (1952) and Red 
Planet Mars (1952) annihilate America and Russia, 
respectively. Anti-materialist destruction is celebrated in 
the endings of two 1970 films, Michelangelo Antonioni's 
Zabriskie Point and John Boorman's leo the last, exam- 
ples of explosive flower power. As the United States grew 
more city-centered, instances of urban destruction out- 
numbered the rural; few disaster films are set in Kansas 

An alternative community is the ship of fools, where 
a cross-section of humanity on a micro-journey of life 
face disaster. Sometimes the folks are all at sea, as in the 

various Titanic films (1915, 1943, 1953, 1997) and A 
Night to Remember (1958) — or under it, as in The Abyss 
(1985). Or they're up in the air, as in The High and the 
Mighty (1954) zndi Airport (1969). Nor are we safe in the 
earth, as shown in The Core (2003). As in the nature 
disasters, mankind is punished for the hubris of 

Survival films detail the aftermath of a disaster, as in 
lifeboat (1944) and Marooned (1970). Some films begin 
after a war is over: Soylent Green (1973), The War Game 
(1967), Teenage Caveman (1958), and George Miller's 
Mad Max smcs (1979, 1981, 1985). The edifice, ship, 
and survival disaster types share the melodrama's focus 
on societal conflicts. 

Similarly, the war genre edges into disaster when the 
film emphasizes carnage and the human conflict tends to 
be internecine, as in Slaughterhouse Five (1972) and the 
post-battle scenes in Gone with the Wind (1939). Some 
space war films such as The Day the Sky Exploded (1958) 
and The Day the World Ended (1956) visualize the dis- 
aster as Day of Judgment. 

In the more general, history disaster, a doom is set in 
the distant past — most notably in the tradition of biblical 
epics, as well as films such as San Francisco (1936) and 
Cabiria (1914). A variation on the period disaster proj- 
ects into the future, as in the Planet of the Apes series 
(1968-1973), When Worlds Collide (1951), Things to 
Come (1936, 1979), and War of the Worlds (1953, 
2003, 2005). Arguably the best historical disaster film is 
Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), which used 
the period angst of the Black Plague in the Middle Ages 
for an art-house meditation upon the life of honor and 
the dance of death. 

The disaster includes — and perhaps is apotheosized 
as a genre by — the comic treatment. Much slapstick com- 
edy exults in massive destruction, from Mack Sennett to 
Buster Keaton. The Bed-Sitting Room (1968) and A Boy 
and His Dog (1976) provide comic takes on nuclear 
apocalypse. Jim Abrahams and David Zucker sent up 
Airport with their Airplane! larks (1980, 1982). Woody 
Allen parodied the monster film in Everything You Always 
Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask 
(1972) when a giant breast threatens an isolated country- 
side, and in Neiu York Stories (1989), when the hero's 
dead mother fills the sky, nagging. In The Big Bus 
(1976), the detailed parody virtually defines the conven- 
tions of the journey disaster film, in the preposterous 
context of a nuclear-powered bus. 


Film conventions are recurring elements that distinguish 
works in a particular genre. They are tendencies and cross- 
referents, not rules. Thus, for example, notwithstanding the 



Disaster Films 

b. New York, New York, 12 June 1916, d. 2 November 1991 

The "master of disaster" started from science. Irwin Allen 
wrote, produced, and directed an adaptation of Rachel 
Carson's The Sea around Us (1952), which won an Oscar® 
for best documentary feature. His documentary The 
Animal World (1956) featured prehistoric effects by master 
animator Ray Harryhausen. Oddly, Allen's The Story of 
Mankind (1957) marked the last collective appearance of 
the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, and Chico 
respectively played Peter Minuit, Isaac Newton, and a 
monk). Allen switched to fiction to direct The Lost World 
(1960), based on the Arthur Conan Doyle novel, which 
was a precursor to Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1997). 

Allen also had a prolific career in TV. His Voyage to 
the Bottom of the Sea ran from 1964 to 1968 (110 
episodes) . Although his favorite of his TV series. The Time 
Tunnel (1966), folded after only thirty episodes, Allen 
returned with Lost in Space (83 episodes, 1965-1968), 
about an outer-spaced Family Robinson; Land of the 
Giants (51 episodes, 1967—1970); Swiss Family Robinson 
(20 episodes, 1975-1976); and Code Red (yb episodes, 

Allen is best known as the producer of the two key 
1970s disaster-film prototypes. The Poseidon Adventure 
(1972) set the pattern: a large, famous cast, a dramatic 
crisis, clear moral lines, and spectacular special effects. 
When a luxury cruise ship capsizes in a tidal wave, the 
survivors struggle to reach the top (i.e., the bottom) of the 
vessel. Inverting the formula, in The Towering Inferno 
(1974), the all-star cameos struggle to get down safely 
from a burning skyscraper. Though it lost the Oscar® for 
best picture (to Godfather II, not unjustly). The Towering 

Inferno won Oscars® for cinematography, editing, and 
song ("We May Never Love Like This Again"). Allen 
directed the action scenes in Poseidon and Inferno, and all 
the scenes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), Five 
Weeks in a Balloon (1962), The Swarm (1978), and the 
Poseidon sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), 
which was symptomatically about attempts to loot the 
earlier success. 

Addressing the inevitable tragedy in human life, Allen 
used expensive disaster effects to lure viewers away from 
TV, for which he later produced three smaller disaster 
films: Hanging by a Thread (1979), and Cave-In and The 
Night the Bridge Fell Down (both 1983). He was 
reportedly planning another Lost in Space movie when he 
died of a heart attack in 1991. 


The Sea around Us (1952), The Story of Mankind (1957), The 
Lost World (1960), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), 
Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), The Poseidon Adventure 
(1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Swarm (1978), 
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) 


Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Lost World. New York: Doran, 

Fox, Gardner. Jules Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon. New 

York: Pyramid Books, 1962. 
Leinster, Murray, and Irwin Allen. Land of the Giants. New 

York: Pyramid Books, 1968. 
Sturgeon, Theodore. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. New 

York: Pyramid Books, 1961. 

Maurice Yacowar 

period disasters, dramatic immediacy prefers that films be 
set in the here and now. The first US film version of H.G. 
Wells's The War of the Worlds (1952) shifiied the setting 
from Victorian London to contemporary Los Angeles. 
Cornel Wilde set his survival film No Blade of Grass 
(1970) in London to emphasize the culture threatened by 
anarchy ("Keep up your Latin, David; it will stand you in 
good stead"). Volcano (1997) pours Pompeiian lava 
through the streets of modern Los Angeles. In the 
Sensurround Earthquake, our first tremor comes when the 

film shows people at a movie. In Night of the Living Dead 
(1968) and Cujo (1983), the attacks on women in cars 
played most effectively at drive-in screenings. 

To reflect the makeup audience, disaster films usually 
feature a social cross-section. The disaster challenges 
humanity rather than the individual. The group fractures 
variously: the businessman will clash with the ethicist, the 
character who knows from experience with the theoretician, 
the rich with the poor, the black with the white. In Jaws 
(1975) the mayor in the sharkskin suit sells out safety for 



Disaster Films 

Irwin Allen. © Warner bros./courtesy everett 


business, while the noble savage Quint (Robert Shaw) spars 
with college man Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) until they 
bond over beer and wounds. In Lifeboat t\ic key tensions are 
between the working-class guy Qohn Hodiak) and the rich 
bitch (Tallulah Bankhead), and between the American 
"family" and the outsider Germans (both the Nazi and 
the assimilated Schmidt/Smith). In this respect, John 
Ford's classic western Stagecoach (1939) is exemplary, as it 
afflicts various social antitheses with savage nature, as prob- 
lematically embodied by the Indians, and with the dubious 
"blessings of civilization," represented by the puritan bigots 
and the crooked banker. The genre dissolves internal 
squabbles before a common enemy. 

Often society is imaged as a besieged family. In 
Hitchcock's The Birds, Mitch's cold, tight family 
stretches to admit Melanie. In the last shot the caged 
lovebirds seem a tentative talisman against the feath- 
ered force poised around the retreating characters. In 
Twister (1996) the family/crew are threatened not just 
by flying tanker trucks and cows but by unscrupulous 
corporate rivals. In the isolated setting the besieged are 
left to their own resources, with no help from the 

Confirming the characters' need for self-sufficiency, 
the disaster film plays with ideas of religion in an irreli- 
gious age. Religious figures question their faith rather 

than assert it. Crackpots such as the drunken seer in 
The Birds recall Old Testament prophets, calling down 
punishment for our godless pride and corruption. The 
San Francisco earthquake seems prompted, at least in 
part, by Clark Gable's knocking down a priest played 
by Spencer Tracy. Rene Auberjonois's priest in The Big 
Bus, a doubter who gloats over God's giving him the 
window seat but who wants to date, is a parody of Gene 
Hackman's pragmatic priest in The Poseidon Adventure 
(1972). The disaster film's happy ending derives from the 
hero's intuition/experience/courage — but it is often pre- 
ceded by a prayer. Absent a presiding god, the disaster 
characters often gamble, flipping a coin or drawing straws 
or cards for guidance. The Seventh Seal typically privileges 
the individual quest for salvation over the corrupted 

In the disaster film the law and the learned prove as 
impotent as the church, as the genre reminds us of the 
fragility of our social institutions. A rare policeman hero 
in a disaster film is James Whitmore in Them!. The 
heroism of the cop (George Kennedy) in Earthquake is 
tempered by his disillusionment with the force and his 
suspension from it. Disaster usually includes a special- 
ist — a scientist, professor, or an amateur such as the 
ornithologist in The Birds — but even their factual frame- 
work can't handle nature. Mystery dwarfs science, even 
when impressive new science enables the adventure, as in 
outer-space disasters and the underground burrowing in 
Deep Core. Specialists start out smug, but as the disaster's 
complacent characters slip from security into terror, the 
genre teaches old-fashioned humility. 

Against all this fragmentation, the obligatory roman- 
tic subplot serves more than box-office appeal. It con- 
fronts chaos, dehumanizing antisocial individualism, and 
the opposite dangers of emotional excess and suppres- 
sion, with the positive value of love. It signifies commun- 
ity renewal and generosity. 

Older than the Old Testament, the disaster genre 
can speak pointedly to its particular time. During the 
Red Scare in the 1950s the favorite disaster threats were 
inhuman, cold monsters from outer space (representing 
Communists from Russia) and atomic science backfiring. 
With the United States divided over the Vietnam War, 
Hollywood generally steered clear of making war films 
and featured amoral cops and spies, projecting the war's 
moral dilemmas onto civilian genres. The disaster cycle 
of the 1970s made the United States the batdeground 
that TV news depicted as elsewhere. 

Armageddon (1998), in which a Texas-size asteroid 
threatens to wipe out Earth, demonstrates how the dis- 
aster film's conventions work in practice. Oil-driller 
Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his maverick crew 
are despatched to nuke the asteroid from within. 



Disaster Films 

Implicitly evoking Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston's 
opening narration evokes cataclysm: "It happened before. 
It will happen again. It's just a question of time." We see 
digital destructions in New York City, Paris, Shanghai, 
then on the asteroid itself. As if Earth's annihilation 
wasn't a sufficient enough cause for concern. Stamper's 
crew clash with the more conventional NASA staff and 
Harry has to deal with the love affair between his daugh- 
ter Grace (Liv Tyler) and his best worker, A. J. Frost (Ben 
Affleck). On both the personal and global levels, explo- 
sive dangers require explosive solutions, a strategy that 
gained momentum after 9/11. As the despairing Stamper 
asks God for "a little help here," A. J. rises from the 
presumed dead to save mankind. Stamper accepts him as 
his son and — despite the straw draw — sacrifices himself 
to restore A. J. to his Grace. Extending the allegory, of 
the team's two rockets, the Independence is destroyed 
and the Freedom survives. Religion here is subordinated 
to (a not unrelated) American patriotism. Apart from the 
asteroid, our heroes' biggest danger comes from the 
dilapidated Russian technology and the lunatic Red 
astronaut (Peter Stormare). Post-Cold War, the Russian 
threat is just a vodka-addled fool rather than the malev- 
olent foe of the Cold War. In the American populist 
tradition, the maverick Willis, Affleck, and Steve 
Buscemi characters prove more humane and effective 
than the textbook officers. After fighting all film long, 
our two heroes express their mutual love at the end. The 
film's emotional conclusion provides a catharsis, even for 
the viewer not seduced by special effects. 

The disaster film's commercial appeal has been 
strengthened by new technology's ever more special 
effects and surprising imagery. Yet the deeper pleasure 

derives from the familiarity of its human material — the 
characters, their challenges, their resolutions. In virtually 
every particular, Armageddon, this representative film 
draws upon the viewer's familiarity with the earlier films 
and legends of its type. The genre continuity facilitates 
the viewer's identification with the characters, intensify- 
ing both the vicarious chill at their peril and their heart- 
ening survival. 

SEE ALSO Action and Adventure Films; Genre; Science 


Annan, David. Catastrophe: The End in the Cinema. New York: 
Bounty, 1975. 

Broderick, Mick. Nuclear Movies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 
1988, 1991. 

Dixon, Wlieeler Winston. Disaster and Memory: Celebrity Culture 
and the Crisis of Hollywood Cinema. New York: Columbia 
University Press, 1999. 

Forshey, Gerald E. American Religious and Biblical Spectaculars. 
Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 1992. 

Keane, Stephen. Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe. 
London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2001. 

Neale, Steven. Genre and Hollywood. London and New York: 
Roudedge, 2000. 

, ed. Genre and Contemporary Hollywood. London: British 

Film Institute, 2002. 

Newman, Km. Millennium Voices: End of the World Cinema. 
London: Titan, 1999. 

Maurice Yacowar 




In the film industry, distribution is the intermediary 
between production and exhibition and involves the fol- 
lowing fianctions: sales, that is, the securing of rental 
contracts for specific play dates; advertising directed to 
theaters through trade publications and to filmgoers 
through the print and electronic media; the physical 
delivery of prints to theaters; and the method of release. 
New York City, the media and communications capital 
of the country, has served as the distributing center of the 
industry throughout most of its history. Distribution 
originally serviced motion picture theaters exclusively in 
the domestic and foreign markets, but as new electronic 
technologies were developed, distribution subsumed 
ancillary markets such as network television, cable tele- 
vision, home video, and the Internet. Nontheatrical dis- 
tribution involved similar functions, but serviced 
educational, social, and religious organizations outside 
commercial exhibition. 

Distributing a feature film, a company charges the 
producer a fee based on the gross receipts (i.e., rentals) 
taken in by the film. In Hollywood, the schedule of fees 
ranges from 30 to 45 percent of the gross, depending on 
the market. The fees remain in effect for the duration of 
the distribution contract and are levied each time a film is 
released to a new "window," for example, home video, 
cable television, or network television. The revenue from 
these fees is designed to offset the distributor's overhead 
expenses in maintaining a permanent sales organization, 
to recoup advertising and promotion costs, and to gen- 
erate profits. When the distributor puts up financing for 
a feature film, the fee also serves to reward the company 
for taking the risk of production financing. 

Hollywood has operated on a global basis since 
the 1920s. Overseas, American film companies dominated 
the screen just as they did at home. They distributed the 
biggest box office attractions and captured the lion's 
share of ticket sales. Before World War II, about a third 
of Hollywood's revenues came from abroad; by the 1960s, 
the proportion rose to about one-half As demand for film 
entertainment increased worldwide, especially in western 
Europe, the Pacific Rim, and Latin America during the 
1980s, Hollywood entered the age of globalization. In 
practice, globalization meant that film companies 
upgraded international operations to a privileged position 
by expanding "horizontally" to tap emerging markets 
worldwide, by expanding "vertically" to form alliances 
with independent producers to enlarge their rosters, and 
by "partnering" with foreign investors to secure new sour- 
ces of financing. Achieving these goals has led to a merger 
movement in Hollywood that has yet to run its course. 
The history of these mergers would reveal how today's 
media giants, such as Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, 
and Viacom, protected their entrenched positions by 
strengthening their distribution capabilities. 


Considered visual novelties, the first films reached audi- 
ences by way of vaudeville. Pioneering companies 
assembled packages, consisting of projector, projectionist, 
and films, which traveled the vaudeville circuit as an act 
that lasted from ten to twenty minutes. In playing a 
circuit, a new act would typically open in the flagship 
theater in New York and then move to the other 
houses in sequence. This so-called peripatetic form of 
distribution ideally suited the infant film business, with 




its limited number of film subjects, equipment, and 
trained personnel. 

"While films were finding a ready place in metropol- 
itan vaudeville houses, distributors also took to the road. 
Once projeaors became available for purchase on the open 
market, traveling shovmien brought the movies to small- 
town America by exhibiting their films in amusement 
parks, lodge halls, and vacant storefronts. Showmen orig- 
inally had to purchase their films outright from producers, 
which was expensive, but the creation of film exchanges 
beginning around 1903 solved the problem by enabUng 
showmen to rent films at a fraction of the purchase price. 
The availability of films for rental, in turn, stimulated the 
rise of the nickelodeon theater beginning in 1905. 

To capitalize on this growing demand for motion 
picture entertainment, the pioneering film companies 
formed the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1909 
and attempted to take control of the industry. The Trust, 
as the MPPC was called, standardized the playing times of 
films to around fifteen minutes — the playing time of a 
single thousand-foot reel — and created a national distribu- 
tion system by licensing the requisite nimiber of existing 
exchanges. The goal was to supply nickelodeons with a 
steady supply of shorts for programs that might change 
daily. In 1910 the MPPC took over the distribution fimc- 
tion by forming a subsidiary. General Film. Although the 
courts eventually ruled that the MPPC setup was illegal, the 
Trust brought stability to the industry. General Film, for 
example, improved the chaotic conditions in the market- 
place by inaugurating a system of "zoning" so that theaters 
in a particular locale would not show the same pictures 
simultaneously, by classifying theaters by size and location, 
and by regularizing pricing, among other measures. 

With the arrival of feature films — defined by the trade 
as multiple-reel narratives with unusual content that mer- 
ited special billing and advertising — a new distribution 
system was needed to generate more revenue to recoup 
higher production costs. At first, producers and importers 
used the "states' rights" method, which involved selling 
the marketing rights of an individual feature territory by 
territory to local distributors, who would then rent out the 
picture for a flat fee or on a percentage basis to theaters. 
Producers and importers also used road showing to market 
their pictures. The technique got rid of the middleman 
and enabled a showman to book a theater on a percentage- 
of-the-gross basis and then take over the actual operations 
for the run. Such a strategy enabled the producer or 
importer, rather than the subdistributor, to capture most 
of the box office revenue should the picture prove to be a 
hit. From 1912 to 1914, nearly three himdred features 
were distributed using these methods. States' rights distri- 
bution and road showing were satisfactory techniques to 
exploit one picture at a time, but if producers ever hoped 

to expand and regularize their output, a better method had 
to be found. 

W. W. Hodkinson (1881-1971), a former General 
Film exchange man, created such a system in 1914 by 
convincing a group of regional states' rights exchanges to 
join forces and form Paramount Piaures Corporation, the 
first national distributor of feature films. Hodkinson's plan 
guaranteed exhibitors a steady supply of features because 
Paramount would help producers finance and advertise 
their pictures with advance rentals collected by the 
exchanges. In return, the company would charge pro- 
ducers a distribution fee of 35 percent of the gross 
to cover operating costs and a built-in profit margin. 
This innovative scheme attracted the country's best 
producers — Adolph Zukor's Famous Players, the Jesse 
L. Lasky Feature Play Company, among others — who 
signed long-term franchise agreements granting Paramount 
exclusive rights to their pictures. 

Paramount was geared to release 104 pictures a year, 
enough to fill the playing time of a theater that changed 
bills twice a week. Exhibitors contracted for the entire 
Paramount program, a practice known as block booking. 
Though block booking would later be much abused, 
selling poor films on the strength of the good, the prac- 
tice at its inception worked to everyone's satisfaction. 
Hodkinson also codified prevailing practices into a sys- 
tem that graded houses playing features from first-run to 
fift:h, depending on size, condition, and location (from 
downtown in large cities to village). As the "feature 
craze" spread, other national distributors entered the 
market, among them Metro Pictures, Universal, and the 
Fox Film Corporation. 

This tremendous expansion of the movie business 
convinced Adolph Zukor (1873-1976) that Paramount 
and its producers should merge, not only to effect econo- 
mies of scale in production, but also to capture a greater 
share of the market. Hodkinson vetoed the idea, arguing 
that the three branches of motion pictures — production, 
distribution, and exhibition — should be kept separate. In 
his view, better pictures, better distribution, and better 
theater management would result if a lively independence 
existed among them. But Zukor was not to be denied. In 
a series of intricate maneuvers, Zukor had Hodkinson 
deposed in June 1916. Then he merged Famous Players 
with the studio owned by Jesse Lasky (1880-1958). 
Separately they might be the first- and second-ranked 
producers in the country; together, as the Famous 
Players— Lasky Corporation, they were in a class by them- 
selves. Paramount became the distribution subsidiary of 
the new company. (Paramount later became the name of 
the parent company.) When Zukor completed his con- 
solidations and acquisitions in December 1917, he had 
created the largest motion picture company in the world. 




Implementing the next stage of his thinking, Zukor 
increased film rentals and expanded his production pro- 
gram, so that by 1918, Paramount distributed 220 fea- 
tures, more in one year than any one company before or 


Zukor's tactics led to a backlash by resistant exhibitors 
and ultimately to a merger movement that created a 
vertically integrated industry controlled by a handfitl of 
companies at the end of the 1920s — Paramount; Warner 
Bros.; Loew's, Inc. (MGM); Twentieth Century Fox; and 
RKO. During the golden age of Hollywood, distribution 
adhered to the run-clearance-zone system. The country 
was divided into thirty markets, each of which was sub- 
divided into zones that designated theatrical runs. 
Theaters first showing newly released pictures were des- 
ignated first-run. Located in the large metropolitan areas 
and owned mainly by the circuits affiliated with the 
majors, these theaters seated thousands, commanded the 
highest ticket prices, and accounted for nearly 50 percent 
of all admissions. Second-run houses were typically 
located in the neighborhoods and charged lower ticket 
prices. Later-run houses were located in outlying com- 
munities and charged still less. Over a course of time, a 
feature played every area of the country from metropolis 
to village. This merchandising pattern for movies was 
similar to that of other consumer goods: first, the exclu- 
sive shops; next, the general department store; and 
finally, the close-out sales. 

Spawned during the Great Depression as a two-for- 
one form of price cutting to attract customers, double 
features required the majors to produce two types of 
features, class A and class B. Class A films contained 
stars, had high production values, and were based on 
best-selling novels and plays; class B movies were, at best, 
inexpensive genre films that were considered filler by the 
companies. To recoup the higher costs of its quality 
product, companies rented such films on a percentage- 
of-the-gross basis, while the cheapies were sold at a flat 
fee. The former practice enabled the majors to benefit 
from surges at the box office, while the latter allowed 
them to cover their costs and operate their studios at full 

The trade practices of the industry — run-clearance- 
zoning, block booking, admission price discrimination — 
were used by the majors to wrest the greatest possible 
profits from the market and to keep independent exhib- 
itors in a subordinate position. The US Justice 
Department, as a result, instituted an antitrust case against 
the majors in 1938. Ten years later, the Paramount czse, as 
it was called, reached the Supreme Court. In a landmark 
decision, the court held that the Big Five (Loew's Inc. 

[MGM], Paramount, RKO, Twentieth Century Fox, and 
Warner Bros.) conspired to monopolize exhibition. Trade 
practices such as block booking, whereby the majors 
rented their pictures to independent exhibitors in groups 
on an all-or-nothing basis, unfair clearances and runs that 
prolonged the time subsequent-run theaters had to wait to 
receive new films, and preferential arrangements among 
members of the Big Five were declared illegal restraints 
of trade. To break the monopoly in exhibition, the 
Supreme Court mandated that the Big Five divorce their 
theater chains from their production and distribution 

Although the majors concentrated their production 
efforts on the big picture, demand for low-budget films 
remained strong until the advent of television in the 
1950s, especially in small towns. During the 1930s and 
1940s, the industry defined exploitation films as those 
films that dealt with social problems in a sensational way, 
such as Warner Bros'. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang 
(1932), which exposed the sordid conditions in a Georgia 
prison and the same studio's Black Fury (1935), which 
dramatized labor and industrial unrest in the coal mines 
of Pennsylvania. After television came in, exploitation 
films became associated with low-budget science fiction, 
horror, rock 'n' roll, and drag racing films designed to 
appeal to teenagers and the drive-in trade. The distribu- 
tion of these films was handled by independent producers 
and small studios outside mainstream Hollywood, such 
as Edward Small (1891-1977), Columbia's "Jungle 
Sam" Katzman (1901-1973), Allied Artists (formerly 
Monogram), and American International Pictures. 

Although the Paramount decision restructured the 
industry, it by no means reduced the importance of the 
big companies. By allowing the majors to retain their 
distribution arms, the court, wittingly or not, gave them 
the means to retain control of the market. The reason, 
simply stated, is that decreasing demand for motion 
picture entertainment during the 1950s foreclosed the 
distribution market to newcomers. Distribution presents 
high barriers to entry. To operate efficiently, a distributor 
requires a worldwide sales force and capital to finance 
twenty to thirty pictures a year. Since the market 
absorbed fewer and fewer films during this period, it 
could support only a limited number of distributors — 
about the same as existed at the time of the Paramount 


After World War II, things were never the same for the 
motion picture industry. Beginning in 1947, the winds of 
ill fortune blew incessantly for ten years, during which 
movie attendance dropped by one-half Television, the 
main culprit, replaced the movies as the dominant 





b. Steven Jay Rechnitz, Brooklyn, New York, 19 September 1927, d. 20 December 1992 

Regarded in the industry as a consummate deal maker, Steven 
J. Ross's greatest coup was orchestrating the merger of his 
company Warner Communications with Time, Inc., in 1989 
to create Time Warner, the world's largest media and 
entertainment company. Anticipating the need to strengthen 
Warner Communications' distribution capabilities as 
Hollywood entered an era of globalization, Ross brokered a 
$14 billion deal that combined his company's record labels, 
book division, cable television systems, and Hollywood studio 
with the magazines of Time's publishing empire. Ross became 
chairman and co— chief operating officer of the new Time 
Warner, and he received as compensation nearly $80 million 
in 1990, more than any other executive of a public company. 

Ross started out during the Great Depression selling 
trousers in New York's garment district. Marrying well to 
Carol Rosenthal in 1954, he joined his father-in-law's 
funeral business in Manhattan as a trainee. A plan Ross 
devised to rent out the company's limousines in off hours 
ultimately led to the creation of Kinney National Services — 
a conglomerate, which Ross headed, that operated funeral 
homes, a car rental agency, parking lots and garages, and a 
building maintenance service. Ross expanded into 
entertainment by purchasing the Ashley Famous talent 
agency in 1967 and then, in 1969, the ailing Warner 
Brothers-Seven Arts, a Toronto-based television syndicator 
that had recently acquired the venerable Warner Bros, 
studio in Hollywood, along with its post- 1948 film library 
and record labels. He then branched out into cable 
television by launching Warner-Amex Cable 
Communications in partnership with American Express 
(which he later bought out), and he eventually added toys, 
cosmetics, video games, and other businesses to his 

company, which he renamed Warner Communications in 
1972 after selling off the old Kinney business. 

Following the collapse of Warner's video game 
business in 1982, Ross downsized the company, selling off 
Warner's peripheral operations to become a vertically 
integrated entertainment conglomerate engaged in film 
and television programming, recorded music, and mass 
market book publishing. The restructuring allowed for 
diversification while enabling the company to meet 
increased demand worldwide for feature films and 
television shows, videos and compact discs, and cable TV. 

During Ross's stewardship, Warner's film division 
consistently captured top shares of the box office, 
producing blockbusters such as the Superman, Batman, 
and Lethal Weapon series, Steven Spielberg's The Color 
Purple (1985), and numerous Clint Eastwood action films, 
including The Unforgiven (1992), which won Academy 
Awards® for best picture and best director. Ross came 
under criticism for saddling the company with enormous 
debt to pay the cost of the merger with Time, for his pay 
package, and for his lavish treatment of Warner's stars. 
Nonetheless, Ross is remembered as a creative 
entrepreneur who was willing to take great risks to realize 
his vision of a global media complex. 


Bruck, Connie. Master of the Game: Steve Ross and the 

Creation of Time Warner. New York: Simon & Schuster, 

Klein, Alec. Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the 
Collapse of AOL Time Warner. New York: Simon & 
Schuster, 2003. 

Tino Balio 

leisure-time activity of the American people. Studios cut 
back on production, and audiences became selective and 
more discerning in their moviegoing tastes. Motion pic- 
tures, therefore, were produced and marketed individu- 
ally. During the 1960s, Hollywood adopted a 
blockbuster formula to reach the masses. The new for- 
mula to "make them big, show them big, and sell them 
big" succeeded; it resulted in family-oriented hits like 
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), Ben-Hur 

(1959), Exodus (1960), The Sound of Music (1965), and 
Fiddler on the Roof (1971). 

The big picture transformed the three-tier playoff of 
the run-clearance-zone pattern to a two-tiered playoff. 
Typically, a blockbuster was released in each market, first 
to selected houses for extended runs as road shows or 
exclusive engagements, and subsequently to large num- 
bers of theaters to capture the leavings. Another way of 
characterizing this distribution pattern is "slow and fast." 




Steven J. Ross, keith meyers/new york times co./hutton 


The blockbuster changed release schedules as well. 
Instead of releasing pictures throughout the year at reg- 
ular intervals, companies brought out their important 
pictures during the Christmas and Easter holidays and 
at the beginning of summer. 


Largely shut out of the American market since the 1920s, 
foreign films did not really reach US theaters until after 
World War II. Before the war, foreign films played only 
in New York and in a few other major cities. Afiier the 
war, they played in a growing number of art film theaters 
around the country and created a subindustry known as 
the art film market, which was devoted to the acquisition, 
distribution, and exhibition of foreign-language and 
English-language films produced abroad. Waves of 
imported feature films from Italy, France, Sweden, 
Britain, and Japan entered the country, represented by 
such classics as Roma, citta aperta {Open City, Roberto 
Rossellini, 1945), Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr. 
Hulot's Holiday, Jacques Tati, 1953), Det Sjunde inseglet 
{The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Hamlet 
(Laurence Olivier, 1948), and Rashomon (Akira 

Kurosawa, 1951). Foreign films paled in significance 
to Hollywood fare at the box office, but their influence 
on American film culture was enormous. Foreign films 
became regular subjects of feature stories and reviews in 
the New York Times, mass-circulation magazines, high- 
brow periodicals, and the trade press. They were also 
promoted by museums, film festivals, and college film 
and literature departments around the country. 

Foreign film distribution was handled originally by 
small independent companies operating out of New 
York, such as Joseph Burstyn, Janus Films, and Lopert 
Films, but by the 1960s the art film market had been 
taken over by Hollywood. The commercial potential of 
the art film market became apparent when films like Et 
Dieu . . . crea la femme {And God Created Woman, Roger 
Vadim, 1956), starring Brigitte Bardot, and Pote tin 
Kyriaka {Never On Sunday, Jules Dassin, 1960), starring 
Melina Mercouri, broke box office records. Since foreign 
films might have difficulty securing a seal of approval 
from the Production Code Administration because of 
their sexual content, the majors got around the problem 
simply by forming art film distribution subsidiaries. The 
new subsidiaries either acquired the distribution rights to 
completed films or formed alliances with new talent by 
offering young directors production financing. Soon, the 
majors had absorbed nearly the entire pantheon of 
European auteurs, including Michelangelo Antonioni 
(b. 1912), Luchino Visconti (1906-1976), and Federico 
Fellini (1920-1993) of Italy; Tony Richardson (1928- 
1991), Joseph Losey (1909-1984), and Karel Reisz 
(1926-2002) of Britain; Francois Truffaut (1932- 
1984), Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), Louis Malle (1932- 
1995), and Eric Rohmer (b. 1920) of France; and Ingmar 
Bergman (b. 1918) of Sweden. 

The core audience for foreign films consisted mostly 
of America's "cinephile" generation, university students 
in their twenties and thirties. In response to this student 
interest, colleges and universities began offering courses 
in film history, theory, and criticism. Colleges and uni- 
versities also supported an estimated four thousand film 
societies, which were attracting 2.5 million persons annu- 
ally by 1968. Foreign films were a mainstay of these 
societies, which also showed Hollywood classics, docu- 
mentaries, and experimental films. To cultivate this audi- 
ence in the so-called 16 mm nontheatrical market, 
independent foreign film distributors such as Janus 
Films and New Yorker Films abandoned regular art film 
distribution and concentrated on the university scene. 
They were soon joined by the Hollywood majors, who 
also wanted a share of the bonanza. Since the art films in 
distribution had already made names for themselves in 
the theatrical market and in the national media, compa- 
nies catering to the 16mm market promoted their rosters 
mainly through catalogs, which simply described the 




content of the films and listed the rental terms. This 
market had existed since the 1930s and had done most 
of its business renting instructional films to colleges and 
schools until foreign films came along. 

The art film market declined after 1969, as 
American films with adult themes targeted at the youth 
market, such as In the Heat of the Night (1967), The 
Graduate (1967), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), captured 
the spotlight. The demise of the Production Code in 
1968 and a cultural revolution in the United States 
ushered in a period of unprecedented frankness in the 
American cinema that rivaled most anything on the art 
film circuit. Although university film societies replaced 
the art film theater during the 1970s, they too declined 
when home video made huge numbers of old films — 
foreign and domestic — available for rent. Since 1970, the 
art film market has functioned as a niche business that 
depended on foreign-language films and English- 
language films produced abroad without any US backing. 
Although the majors reentered the art film market during 
the 1990s either by forming classics divisions or by 
acquiring successful independent distributors, such as 
Miramax and New Line Films, the market continued to 
generate only a few hits each year. 


Before television, feature films played in motion picture 
theater almost exclusively; after television, the new 
medium extended the commercial life of films by creat- 
ing ancillary markets. During the 1950s, studios in des- 
perate need of money sold off their pre- 1948 film 
libraries to television syndicators, who, in turn, leased 
the films to local television stations to fill out their 
programming schedules. The studios were free to dispose 
of the pre- 1948 films since they controlled television 
performance rights and all ancillary rights to their pic- 
tures. The sale of recent vintage Hollywood films to 
television had to wait until 1960, when Hollywood 
reached a settlement with the talent guilds regarding 
residual compensation. NBC became the first network 
to use post- 1948 Hollywood films for prime-time pro- 
gramming in the fall of 1961 by launching NBC Saturday 
Night at the Movies. ABC followed suit in 1962 and CBS 
in 1965. 

Thus, by the 1960s, network television had become 
a regular secondary market for theatrical films. The 
development of home video and "pay TV" created addi- 
tional ancillary markets for feature films. Today, after a 
feature film completes its theatrical run, it is released to 
the following "windows" at specific intervals: first to 
home video and pay-per-view, then to cable television, 
and finally to network and syndicated television. Going 
through the distribution pipeline, a motion picture is 

exploited in one market at a time, with the exception of 
home video, which has a window that remains open 
almost indefinitely. At each point, the price of the picture 
to the consumer drops. Economists call the process 
"price tiering," which can be explained as follows: movies 
are first released to theaters at top prices to "high value" 
consumers, that is, those who are most eager to see them 
and are thus willing to pay the most for a ticket; movies 
are then released to "lower value" consumers at prices 
that decline with time. Thus a consumer willing to wait 
long enough will eventually get to see a favorite film for 
"free" over network television. Distributing pictures in 
this manner allows a distributor to tap every segment of 
the market in an orderly way and at a price commensu- 
rate with its demand. Home video became the most 
lucrative of the ancillary markets, and by 1989 had 
surpassed revenue from the domestic theatrical box office 
by a factor of two. 


The same electronic distribution systems that created new 
ancillary markets for feature films also created new dis- 
tribution channels for pornography. Once a clandestine 
industry operating on the fringes of society, the pornog- 
raphy market has now gone mainstream. The VCR 
enabled adult entertainment to enter the home during 
the 1980s. Today, adult films can be purchased or rented 
from local video and music stores and major chains, they 
can be ordered at home and in the finest hotels on cable 
TV with video-on-demand, and they can be accessed on 
the Internet. The widespread acceptance of pornography 
has created an industry that rivals that of Hollywood in 
both revenues and size. Located in the nearby San 
Fernando Valley, the porn industry consists of 75 or 85 
major production companies that churn out literally 
thousands of titles a year, generating billions of dollars 
in revenues. 


After undergoing a period of conglomerization in the late 
1960s and 1970s, the "New Hollywood" that emerged 
targeted the youth audience almost exclusively. To hit 
this target — the "teen and preteen bubble" demographic, 
consisting of avid filmgoers ages ten to twenty-four — 
studios developed high-concept blockbusters and star 
vehicles for the mainstream theatrical market. High- 
concept blockbusters went hand in hand with saturation 
booking, particularly during the fourteen weeks in the 
summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day when 
school is out. A standard marketing practice since Jaws in 
1975, saturation booking was designed to recoup pro- 
duction costs quickly by opening a new film simultane- 
ously at over two thousand screens, backed by an 




intensive national advertising campaign. Saturation 
booking took advantage of changing demographics by 
servicing shopping-center theaters in the suburbs, far 
away from the decaying central cities and their fading 
motion picture palaces. 

Although television had already become a potent 
advertising medium, Hollywood publicity campaigns 
continued to rely on the print medium almost exclusively 
until the 1970s, when television became the principal 
medium to advertise most pictures. Studios relied more 
and more on massive media advertising to sell their films; 
today, the cost of selling a picture might equal its actual 
production cost. Simultaneously, studios relied more and 
more on merchandising tie-ins. At one time, merchan- 
dising was a form of free advertising, but during the 
1970s the sale of all manner of consumer goods, such 

as T-shirts and toys, became a profit center. Following 
the Walt Disney Company's lead in the licensing of 
rights to use film characters, all the studios got on the 
bandwagon, and in the case of Twentieth Century Fox's 
Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), 
Columbia's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), 
Universal's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), and 
Warner's Superman (1978), merchandising revenues 
could sometimes even rival the box office. 

Hollywood also relied more and more on market 
research in devising their advertising campaigns. During 
the studio system era, companies sometimes relied on 
sneak previews to pretest new films by simply asking 
audiences for their written comments as they went out. 
In the New Hollywood, companies used more sophisti- 
cated means. Columbia Pictures became the most 




research minded of the major film companies after Coca- 
Cola acquired it in 1982 and tested the proposition that 
it could sell movies like soft drinks. Marketing research 
was used at first to evaluate newspaper ads, television 
commercials, and radio spots in an attempt to get a 
reaction from the public before a distributor committed 
massive amounts of money to the advertising campaign. 
Tests were devised to discover how to categorize a picture 
as to genre, create a viable competitive position in the 
market, determine a target audience, and choose the best 
media to reach the target audience. 

Such tests were conducted afiier a film was finished 
but before it was released. Later, companies used market- 
ing in advance of production in an attempt to discover 
what the public might want in the way of entertainment. 
Pretesting, for example, was designed to obtain movie- 
goer feedback to concepts for films or to key elements 
while a picture was in preproduction or being evaluated 
for pickup. Fortunately, the studio executives never dis- 
covered what motivates an audience to see a movie or 
determined in advance all the ingredients of a hit picture. 
The unpredictability of audiences has remained a signifi- 
cant factor in making motion pictures such a viable art 

SEE ALSO Exhibition; Independent Film; Publicity and 
Promotion; Studio System; Television; Theaters 


Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film 

Industry. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. 

Conant, Michael. Antitrust in the Motion Picture Industry. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. 

Dale, Martin. The Movie Game: The Film Business in Britain, 
Europe, and America. London: Cassell, 1997. 

Daly, David A. A Comparison of Exhibition and Distribution in 
Three Recent Motion Pictures. New York: Arno, 1980. 

Goldberg, Fred. Motion Picture Marketing and Distribution. 
Boston: Focal Press, 1991. 

Guback, Thomas H. The International Film Industry. 
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969. 

Lewis, Howard T. The Motion Picture Industry. New York: Van 
Nostrand, 1933. 

Mayer, Michael. Foreign Films on American Screens. New York: 
Arco, 1965. 

Squire, Jason E., ed. The Movie Business Book. Englewood Cliffs, 

NJ: Prentice Hall, 1983. 

Wilinsky, Barbara. Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House 
Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 

Wyatt, Justin. High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. 
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. 

Tino Balio 




Documentary exploits the camera's affinity for recording 
the surface of things, what the reahst film theorist 
Siegfried Kracauer called the "affinity" of film as a pho- 
tographic medium for capturing "life in the raw." Even 
before the invention of motion pictures, photographers 
of the nineteenth century, such as Eadweard Muybridge 
(1830—1904), with his "animal locomotion" series, dem- 
onstrated the extent to which the camera might reveal 
facts and details of the world to us that we could not 
perceive with the naked eye. 

Documentary images are different from fiction pre- 
cisely because they possess an indexical bond, a referent, 
to the historical real. Thus documentaries are unique in 
engaging what the documentary theorist Bill Nichols 
calls our epistephilia, a pleasure in knowing about the 
real world. At the same time, however, no matter how 
marvelous the special effects in a fiction film, a death 
scene will never produce the same kind of horror as that 
generated by, say, the Zapruder footage of President John 
F. Kennedy being assassinated or the explosion of the 
space shuttle Challenger as caught by television news 
cameras. Therefore, documentary film has the power to 
bring about change in the audience, whether to influence 
attitudes, increase understanding, or persuade to action, 
and for this reason documentary film has frequently been 
used for propaganda purposes, both overtly and subtly. 

John Grierson (1898—1972), the filmmaker, pro- 
ducer, and advocate who spearheaded the British docu- 
mentary movement in the 1920s, coined the term 
"documentary" in a review of Robert Flaherty's Moana 
(1926). The film, he wrote, "being a visual account of 
events in the daily life of a Polynesian youth and his 
family, has documentary value" because the camera cap- 

tured and revealed truths about Polynesian culture 
(Hardy, p. 11). Although later on such assertions would 
be challenged as First World privilege and presumption, 
for filmmakers of Grierson's generation the relation of 
the camera to the profilmic event was for the most part 

Because of the wide stylistic diversity of films com- 
monly categorized as nonfiction, documentary has been 
notoriously difficult to define. In seeking to be inclusive, 
inevitably most definitions have been vague, clumsy, and 
prescriptive. As Nichols observes, "Documentary as a 
concept or practice occupies no fixed territory. It mobi- 
lizes no finite inventory of techniques, addresses no set 
number of issues, and adopts no completely known 
taxonomy of forms, styles, or modes" (p. 12). Clearly 
documentary cannot be understood as a genre in any 
sense equivalent to the genres of commercial fiction 
cinema; yet whatever the style of individual documentary 
films, all documentaries make truth claims about the real 
world. Perhaps the most useful definition, then, is the 
one offered by Grierson: the "creative treatment of 
actuality." It not only has the virtue of brevity, but also 
incorporates both documentary's connection to the real 
world ("actuality") and the filmmaker's inevitable shap- 
ing influence ("creative treatment"). Of course, the per- 
ennial problem, for documentary filmmakers as well as 
critics and audiences, has been to negotiate a proper 
balance between the two. 


Documentary was crucial to the early development of the 
cinema. Film history conventionally begins in 1895, 




when Louis and Auguste Lumiere publicly exhibited their 
first program of short films in the basement of the Grand 
Cafe in Paris. With titles such as Workers Leaving the 
Lumiere Factory Arrival of a Train (1895), and Le 

Repas de Bebe {Feeding the Baby, 1895), the Lumieres' 
films, or "actualites," were brief slices of life captured by 
the camera. According to the media historian Erik 
Barnouw, the Lumiere programs were so popular that 
within two years they had approximately one hundred 
operators at work around the world, both showing their 
films and photographing new ones to add to a steadily 
increasing catalogue (p. 13). Many of the new enterpris- 
ing film companies that sprang up at the turn of the 
century featured nonfiction titles, particularly trave- 
logues. In an era before world travel was common and 
every tourist had a camera, scenes of foreign lands and 
life had considerable exotic appeal for film patrons, most 
of whom at this time were working class and could not 
afford travel. 

As filmmakers such as Edwin S. Porter (1870-1941) 
and D. W. Griffith (1875-1948) perfected editing tech- 
niques for the purposes of advancing a story, nonfiction 
films were quickly eclipsed in popularity by narrative 
films, which exploited editing and other cinematic tech- 
niques such as framing and camera movement to involve 
spectators emotionally. As a result, nonfiction film 
assumed a subsidiary position, ultimately institutional- 
ized in movie theaters as the newsreels or travelogues, one 
of a series of shorts shown before the feature attraction. 
Thus documentary has remained on the margins of 
mainstream cinema, only periodically producing a fea- 
ture-length work that has managed to find distribution in 
commercial theaters. 

In commercial motion pictures programming, docu- 
mentary found a niche in the form of newsreels, which 
became a regular part of commercial film exhibition, 
along with previews and cartoons, all in support of the 
narrative feature films. Even though newsreels could only 
report on news after the fact, when the stories covered 
were already known, they appealed to audiences because 
they provided an experiential immediacy that surpassed 
the temporal immediacy of the daily newspaper. Each 
newsreel contained coverage of several stories and, after 
the introduction of sound, authoritative voice-over nar- 
ration. Pathe News, which was begun in the United 
States by the Frenchman Charles Pathe (1863—1957) in 
1910, proved so popular that by 1912 several other com- 
panies and studios, including Hearst, Universal, 
Paramount, and Fox, entered the newsreel field. Orson 
Welles's renowned first film. Citizen Kane (1941), 
assumes that newsreel conventions were familiar enough 
to movie audiences to begin with a mock newsreel 
("News on the March"), which is at once a clever expos- 
itory device and a parody of such newsreels, specifically 

of Louis de Rochemont's The March of Time. Newsreels 
lasted through the 1950s, until the disappearance of the 
double bill and the rise of television, with its nightly news 
broadcasts providing an even greater sense of immediacy 
and intimacy than did newsreels. 

In 1922 Robert Flaherty (1884-1951), a former 
explorer and prospector with little prior training in cin- 
ematography, made Nanook of the North, a film about 
Inuit life in the Canadian far north, which demonstrated 
that documentary could be both art and entertainment. 
Flaherty deftly employed fictional techniques such as the 
use of close-ups and parallel editing to involve viewers in 
Nanook's world. The film moved beyond the picturesque 
detachment of the conventional travelogue to offer a 
poetic vision of human endurance against the natural 
elements. The film shows the hardships Nanook faces 
in finding food for his family in the icy Arctic, while at 
the same time creating an intimate sense of them as 
individuals about whom viewers might care (even if on 
occasion it might lapse into condescension, such as when 
Nanook is described in one of the insert titles as a 
"happy-go-lucky Eskimo"). A commercial success, 
Nanook of the North had a lengthy run on Broadway (as 
the second feature with a Harold Lloyd comedy. 
Grandma's Boy [1922]), and its distributor. Paramount 
Studios, commissioned Flaherty to go to the South 
Pacific to "make another Nanook" (Barnouw, p. 43). 
The film that resulted was the aforementioned Moana. 

Despite the artistry of Nanook, Flaherty did take 
liberties with his subjects. Some were necessary because 
of technological limitations: the scenes of Nanook and 
his family in igloos, for example, actually were shot in 
cutaway igloos constructed for the purpose of filming, 
since the camera was too big to get inside a real igloo and 
they did not provide sufficient light for filming. Other 
manipulations are more troubling. The Inuit were 
already acquainted with modern weapons and tools, but 
Flaherty chose to film Nanook without them, falsifying 
their actual lifestyle in order to present a more traditional 
view of their culture. When Nanook was being filmed 
seal hunting, he was unable to catch one, so a dead one 
was tied onto the end of his fishing line and he enacted 
his "struggle" with it. In response to criticism that he 
manipulated his subjects, Flaherty replied, "One often 
has to distort a thing in order to catch its true spirit." 
The comment has significant implications for documen- 
tary practice, for it opens up the possibility that docu- 
mentary films may legitimately seek to document more 
spiritual or intangible aspects of life beneath the physical 
and visible world. 

Grierson's approach to documentary is often seen as 
antithetical to Flaherty's more romantic vision. For 
Grierson, the documentary was first and foremost a tool 




b. Iron Mountain, Michigan, 16 February 1884, d. 23 July 1951 

The only documentary filmmaker to be included in 
Andrew Sarris's notorious auteurist "pantheon," Robert 
Flaherty brought to the documentary form his personal 
vision of humankind's ceaseless struggle against nature, 
finding this theme in a variety of cultures. A mineralogist 
and explorer by profession, with only rudimentary training 
in filmmaking, Flaherty was interested in using film as a 
means to capture the passing existence of traditional 
societies, which he saw as both noble and untainted by 
modern values. 

Flaherty's first film, the landmark Nanook of the North 
(1922), for which he obtained funding from ReviUon Freres 
fur company, was a travelogue about Inuit life in the 
Canadian Arctic that made use of cinematic techniques until 
then associated more with fiction films than documentary. 
By frequently weaving together close-ups of Nanook and his 
family with artfijlly composed long shots of them in the vast 
frozen landscape, Flaherty encourages the viewer both to 
identify with the hunter and his family and to understand 
the awesome natural power of their environment. In the 
brutal snowstorm that constitutes Nanook' s dramatic climax, 
Flaherty used crosscutting between the Inuit family huddling 
inside their igloo and their dogs outside in the fierce wind to 
suggest the difference between humans and other animals 
and to emphasize his theme of romantic survival against the 
crucible of nature. 

Moving beyond the picturesque detachment of the 
conventional travelogue, Nanook was a surprising 
commercial hit. Flaherty went on to make Moana (1926) 
in the South Pacific, where he also worked uncredited on 
fiction films with W. S. Van Dyke and with F. W. 
Murnau. In 1931 Flaherty moved to England, where he 
influenced the British documentary school led by John 
Grierson. Man of Aran ( 1 934) , set on the rugged island off 
the western coast of Ireland, contains thrilling scenes of the 
islanders hunting basking sharks — a skill that had been 

largely forgotten and had to be retaught to the islanders so 
that the sequences could be filmed. His final film, 
Louisiana Story (1948), photographed by Richard Leacock, 
shows almost no sign of modern technology except for a 
glimpse of a derrick belonging to Standard Oil (the 
company that sponsored the film) in the background, 
apparently functioning in harmony with the environment. 

At one time Flaherty's films received much critical 
praise, although anthropologists complained that they 
were inaccurate because of the director's manipulation of 
his subjects. Where once Flaherty was celebrated for his 
sensuous imagery and compelling footage, today his 
documentaries are more often considered a prime example 
of the exoticized, colonial gaze. 


Nanook of the North (1922), Moana (1926), Tabu (1931), 
Man of Aran (1934), The Land (1942), Louisiana Story 


Barsam, Richard. The Vision of Robert Flaherty: The Artist as 
Myth and Filmmaker. Bloomington and Indianapolis: 
Indiana University Press, 1988. 

Calder-Marshall, Arthur. The Innocent Eye: The Life of Robert 
]. Flaherty. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1966. 

Danzker, Jo-Anne Birnie, ed. Robert Flaherty: Photographer/ 
Filmmaker, the Inuit, 1910—1922. Vancouver, BC: 
Vancouver Art Gallery, 1980. 

Rotha, Paul. Robert J. Flaherty: A Biography, edited by Jay 
Ruby. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 

Rothman, William. "The Filmmaker as Hunter: Robert 
Flaherty's Nanook of the North." In Documenting the 
Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and 
Video, edited by Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette 
Sloniowski, 23-39. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University 
Press, 1998. 

Barry Keith Grant 

of social propaganda, in the sense of the medium's 
potential to reach and educate the masses. Thus he 
attacked Flaherty's lyricism and preference for document- 
ing isolated, pre-industrial cultures rather than to grapple 
with specific and immediate social issues of modern 

industrial society — in other words, the problems and 
issues facing audiences who would be seeing the films. 
Grierson emphasized the social utility of documentary, 
proclaiming the desire "to make drama from the ordi- 
nary" in films that emphasized social rather than 





Robert Flaherty at the time of Louisiana Story (1948). 


aesthetic issues. Influenced by the ideas of his contempo- 
rary, the social philosopher Walter Lippmann (1889— 
1974), Grierson felt that the individual citizen was 
becoming less informed and consequently less able to 
participate responsibly in the democratic process; the 
cinema, however, had the potential to solve the problem 
through mass education. 

Grierson's only film as director, Drifters (1929), 
about the British herring fishing industry, reveals the 
influence of the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, not 
only in its editing but also in its comprehensive coverage 
of its subject, from the stalwart fishermen who bring the 
fish to port to the packaged goods ready for distribution 
across the nation. Although Grierson is credited with 
directing only this one film, more important was 
his contribution as producer and advocate for state- 
sponsored documentary. He became the shaping influ- 
ence of the British documentary movement in the late 
1920s through the 1930s, building a film unit under the 
aegis of the government's Empire Marketing Board, with 
its mandate of marketing the British Empire, from 1928 
to 1933; he brought together such talented filmmakers as 
Basil Wright (1907-1987), Ardiur Elton (1906-1973), 

Harry Watt (1906-1987), Paul Rotha (1907-1984), and 
Edgar Anstey (1907-1987). The EMB Film Unit pro- 
duced almost one hundred films in the five years of its 
existence, including Drifters and Flaherty's Industrial 
Britain (1932). When the EMB was shut down in 1933, 
its public relations chief. Sir Stephen Tallents, moved to 
the General Post Office, taking with him the Board's film 
unit. Among the most well known of the documentaries 
to come out of Grierson's unit were Night Mail (Harry 
Wright and Basil Wright, 1934), Song of Ceylon (Wright, 
1934), and Coal Face (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1935), about 
coal mining in northern England. 

Despite Grierson's insistence on the social utility of 
documentary, the documentary films made under his 
leadership, both in Great Britain and later in Canada, 
display a considerable degree of formal experimentation. 
Leading figures in the arts such as the composer 
Benjamin Britten and the poet W. H. Auden contributed 
to EMB documentaries. By the early 1930s the approach 
to montage included not just images but also sound, 
especially afiier Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti joined the 
Unit in 1934, as evidenced in his film Coal Face. Night 
Mail attempts to synchronize the poetic rhythms of 
Auden's voice-over verse with the film's pace of the 
editing to suggest the rhythm of the mail train that 
climbs steadily upward from London to Scotland. 
Despite such formal adventurousness, however, the 
Griersonian style was typically exhortatory, often includ- 
ing an omniscient patriarchal narrator and sharing 
implicit ideological assumptions about the benefits of 
capitalism, industrial progress, and colonial paternalism. 


Grierson understood the potential of documentary cin- 
ema to affect the political views of the nation and its 
people, a view shared by other film-producing nations 
such as Germany and post-Revolutionary Russia. During 
World War II many governments relied on the propa- 
ganda value of documentary film. Already by the late 
1930s, filmmaking in both Japan and Germany had 
come under government control. In Great Britain, where 
Grierson's Film Unit had evolved into the Crown Film 
Unit, documentaries helped boost morale on the home 
front, particularly with the poetic approach of Humphrey 
Jennings (1907-1950) in such films as Fires Were Started 
(1943) and^ Diary for Timothy (1945), which presented 
rich humanist tapestries of the British people during 

In the Soviet Union, Communist Party leader 
Vladimir Lenin famously proclaimed that for the new 
Communist state cinema was the most important of the 
arts. Traveling trains that made and screened newsreels 
were a means of connecting the many republics of the 




Allakariallak as Nanook hunting in Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922). EVERETT collection, reproduced by 


vast Soviet Union, and even feature films such as Sergei 
Eisenstein's Bronenosets Potyomkin {Battleship Potemkin, 
1925), based on an actual historical event, incorporated 
elements of documentary. Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) 
brought a more formalist, experimental approach to the 
newsreel, and with the feature-length Chelovek s kino- 
apparatom {The Man with a Movie Camera, 1929), which 
presents a "day-in-the-life" of a modern Soviet city, 
created a reflexive documentary masterpiece that, along 
with Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Die Sinfonie der 
GroJ?stadt {Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, 1927), estab- 
lished the "city-symphony" form. 

Later in Germany, after Hitler's rise to power, his 
National Socialist Party quickly nationalized the film 
industry under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, 
Minister of Propaganda, which produced films promul- 
gating Nazi ideology. The most prominent documentary 
filmmaker of the Nazi era was Leni Riefenstahl, a former 
star actress, who made Triumph des Willens {Triumph of 

the Will, 1935), about the 1934 Party rally in 
Nuremberg, and the two-part Olympia (1938), about 
the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Triumph of the Willis widely 
considered a powerful expression of fascist ideology and 
aesthetics. Although sources vary on the exact number, 
Riefenstahl clearly had many cameras at her disposal (on 
occasion in the film camera operators may be glimpsed 
on tall elevators constructed on site). Triumph of the Will 
celebrates the rally's mass spectacle of fascist unity, which 
was staged in part precisely to be filmed, successfully 
turning history into theater and overwhelming viewers 
just as party rallies were intended to do to participants. 

In the United States in the 1930s, documentary 
emerged as a dominant form of cultural expression in 
America, informing the aesthetics of all the arts, includ- 
ing painting, theater, literature, and the popular media. 
The documentary impulse also animated many Works 
Progress Administration (WPA) arts projects and impor- 
tant books of the period, like Let Us Now Praise Famous 





b. Denis Abramovich Kaufman, Bialystok, Poland, 2 January 1896, d. 12 February 1954 

Dziga Vertov was instrumental in using the cinema for the 
purposes of social education after the Russian Revolution. 
He not only chronicled the revolution as it happened, but 
approached the production of newsreels in terms of 
interaction with the proletariat. His brother Mikhail also 
became an important documentary filmmaker, while a 
third brother, Boris, became an important 
cinematographer for Jean Vigo and others. 

At the outbreak of World War I, the Kaufmans, an 
educated Jewish family, moved to Moscow. In 1916 Vertov 
enrolled in the Petrograd Psychoneurological Institute, 
where he studied human perception, particularly sound, 
editing bits of recorded sound in novel ways in his 
"Laboratory of Hearing." These experiments would 
influence Vertov's experiments with sound film over a 
decade later in Entuziazm: Simfoniya Donbassa {Enthusiasm: 
The Donbass Symphony, 1931) and Tri pesni o Lenine {Three 
Songs of Lenin, 1934). Changing his name to Dziga Vertov, 
which loosely translates as "spinning top," he began editing 
newsreel footage after the revolution, exploring the 
possibilities of montage in the context of documentary film. 

In 1919 Vertov, along with his future wife, the film 
editor Elisaveta Svilova, and later his brother Mikhail and 
several other young filmmakers, established the Kinoks 
(from kinoki, or cinema-eyes), a group that argued for the 
value and superiority of documentary filmmaking. They 
issued an artistic manifestos and published journal articles 
in which they rejected fiction filmmaking, with its stars, 
studio shooting, and predetermined scripts, in favor of 
what Vertov celebrated as "life caught unawares." The 
camera lens (or kino eye), Vertov proclaimed, had the 
power to penetrate and record visible reality better than 
could the human eye, making documentary the preferred 
practice for a Marxist society based on rational and 
scientific principles of organization. From 1922 to 1925 
Vertov directed a series of twenty-three newsreels entitled 
Kino-Pravda; pravda, meaning truth, was also the name of 
the official Soviet party newspaper. 

Vertov's masterpiece, Chelovek s kino-apparatom { The 
Man with a Movie Camera, 1929), was a visionary "city 
symphony" documentary that reflected on its own status 
as both document and illusion. It presented a lyrical view 
of an idealized Soviet city (a combination of Moscow, 
Odessa, and Kiev), utilizing virtually every special effect 
and cinematic technique available to show life in Soviet 
society while encouraging viewers to consider the nature of 
cinematic construction and the relation between film and 
reality. Vertov's reflexive practice was later continued in 
Jean Rouch's cinema verite (the French term deriving from 
Vertov's kino-pravda) and Jean-Luc Godard's experiments 
in collective political filmmaking with the Dziga Vertov 
Group in the early 1970s. Vertov's avant-garde style 
challenged the constraints of official doctrine, and by the 
end of the 1930s Vertov found himself unable to secure 
funding for further projects. He spent the last two decades 
of his life editing newsreels, as he had begun. 


Chelovek s kino-apparatom { The Man with a Movie Camera, 
1929), Entuziazm: Symfonia Donbassa {Enthusiasm: The 
Donbass Symphony, 1931), Tri pesni o Lenine {Three Songs 
of Lenin, 1934) 


Feldman, Seth. Dziga Vertov: A Guide to References and 
Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979. 

-. " 'Peace Between Man and Machine': Dziga Vertov's 

The Man with a Movie Camera." In Documenting the 
Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Eilm and 
Video, edited by Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette 
Sloniowski, 40-54. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University 
Press, 1998. 

Petric, Vlada. Constructivism in Film: The Man with the Movie 

Camera, A Cinematic Analysis. Cambridge, UK and New 

York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 
Vertov, Dziga. Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov. Edited 

by Annette Michelson, translated by Kevin O'Brien. 

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 

Barry Keith Grant 

Men (begun in 1936 but not published until 1941), by 
James Agee (1909-1955) with photographs by Walker 
Evans (I903-I975). In film, beginning in 1930 a net- 

work of local Film and Photo Leagues developed in 
major American cities as a response to the avoidance of 
controversial material by mainstream theatrical newsreels. 




Together the leagues produced a Worker's Newsreel that 
concentrated on documenting the intense labor activities 
of the early Depression period. Many important docu- 
mentary filmmakers of the time were associated with the 
particularly active New York Film and Photo League, 
and later with Frontier Films, a socially committed pro- 
duction company that produced a series of important 
films about international politics beginning in 1936. 

Under Franklin Roosevelt's presidency (1933- 
1945), the Resettlement Administration (RA) sponsored 
a photographic unit that included Evans, Dorothea 
Lange, and others. It moved into documentary film with 
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and The River 
(1938), both by Pare Lorentz (1905-1992), about the 
dust bowl and the Tennessee Valley Authority, respec- 
tively. Both films elFectively endorsed government policy 
by combining Griersonian authority with American col- 
loquialism, reinforced by fine scores by the American 
composer Virgil Thomson that wove folk themes 
throughout. Although various government agencies had 
previously sponsored documentaries, Lorentz's films were 
the first to garner serious attention and considerable 

theatrical distribution. Roosevelt established the US 
Film Service in 1938, but it died by 1940 because 
Congress refiised to appropriate the necessary funds, 
largely as a result of pressure from Hollywood studios 
that viewed the initiative as unfair competition and not 
in the spirit of free enterprise. 

The popular Hollywood director Frank Capra 
(1897-1991) oversaw for the military the production of 
Why We Fight (1942-1944), a series of seven documen- 
taries designed to provide background information about 
the global conflict so as to help shake Americans from 
their strong isolationist position. These films were widely 
screened at home and as part of military training for 
troops sent overseas. Many Hollywood professionals were 
involved in the various aspects of their production. The 
films effectively simplified the political complexities lead- 
ing to the war by cleverly employing patriotic mythology 
and national iconography. Other important Hollywood 
directors who accepted military commissions and lent 
their filmmaking talents to documenting the war effort 
included John Ford (1894-1973), who made The Battle 
of Midway (1942), William Wyler (1902-1981), maker 




of The Memphis Belle (1944), and John Huston (1906- 
1987), who produced The Battle of San Pietro (1945) and 
the controversial Let There Be Light (1946), initially 
banned by the Armed Forces because of its candid foot- 
age of soldiers who had been traumatized by combat. 

With the domestic prosperity of the postwar years, 
government sponsorship of documentary in the United 
States disappeared. In this period documentary produc- 
tion was sponsored largely by industry, often with pro- 
nounced ties to government interests, and so the films 
tended to be conventional in both style and content. 
Cold War paranoia also served as a strong disincentive 
to originality. Through the 1950s the various newsreel 
series ceased production, as their function was increas- 
ingly taken over by television. 

The most notable exception to the new conservatism 

in documentary was the CBS-TV series See Lt Now, 
started in 1951 by the journalist Edward R. Murrow 
(1908-1965) and die producer Fred Friendly (1915- 
1998). Murrow's stature as a war correspondent and his 
high administrative position at CBS enabled him to 
produce the show with relative freedom. In 1953-1954 
he successfully exposed the demagoguery of Senator 
Joseph McCarthy, a prime mover behind the Cold War 
blacklists and witch hunts (a historical moment vividly 
captured in George Clooney's feature film Good Night 
and Good Luck [2005]). Nevertheless, as a result of 
continued political pressure, by 1959 network policy 
declared that documentaries were the responsibility of 
network news departments; "independents" no longer 
were to be employed because their authenticity might 
not be verifiable. Even today, there are very few docu- 
mentary filmmakers whose work is broadcast on network 
television; documentaries are more likely to be found on 
specialty cable channels such as the Documentary 
Channel or Biography on A&E. However, some regard 
so-called "reality TV" as a form of televisual documen- 
tary; and although shows such as Survivor (beginning in 
2000), Fear Factor (beginning in 2001), and Trading 
Spaces (beginning in 2000) are highly structured and 
carefully edited, they do use nonprofessional actors and 
observe profilmic events as they unfold. 


Inspired by the powerful immediacy of actual combat 
footage and the emergence of Italian neorealism toward 
the end of the war, Hollywood feature films began 
absorbing the influence of documentary. Both The 
Naked City 0ules Dassin, 1948) and On the Waterfront 
(Elia Kazan, 1954), for example, used actual locations in 
New York City to enhance their dramatic realism, and 
independent filmmakers such as Morris Engel (1918— 
2005) with Little Fugitive (1953) and Weddings and 

Babies (1958), and John Cassavetes, (1929-1989) with 
Shadows (1959) and Faces (1968), made feature films 
with portable 35 mm equipment. 

The development of portable 16mm cameras and 
synch-sound equipment brought significant changes to 
documentary film practice. Filmmakers now gained the 
ability to shoot with relative ease on location. The new 
light weight and portability of cameras that before had 
been bulky and heavy meant that they no longer had to 
be the center of profilmic events, but could follow events 
as they happened. Filmmakers could enter a situation 
directly, without having to alter events because of tech- 
nological limitations, as had been the case with, for 
example, Flaherty's camera in igloos. The tripod was 
abandoned, and the camera gained a new mobility car- 
ried on the shoulder of the operator as filmmakers began 
to work in a mode Stephen Mamber has called an 
"uncontrolled cinema." As further improvements were 
perfected, the tape recorder and the camera, which before 
had been connected by a limiting cable, were able to 
operate entirely independently. The crew required to 
make a documentary was reduced to only two people — 
one to operate the camera, the other to record sound. In 
the case of Ross McElwee (b. 1947), whose films such as 
Sherman's March (1986) and Bright Leaves (2003) are 
documentaries of his own life, the crew is just himself, 
shooting with a video camera and attached microphone. 
With these technological advances, documentary film- 
making acquired a freshness and immediacy, both visu- 
ally and aurally; by contrast, the Griersonian tradition, 
which the new style supplanted, typically used omnis- 
cient voice-over narration displaying ideological biases. 
As a result, documentary experienced a revitalization 
internationally, particularly in North America and 

An entire generation of documentarians embraced 
the new observational style and valorized the technology. 
Most advocated an unproblematic view of cinematic 
realism whereby the camera could apprehend the world 
directly, penetrating even surface reality to reveal deeper 
truths. An American Family, a twelve-part series by Craig 
Gilbert broadcast on public television in 1973, sought to 
capture the unadorned life of one particular family and 
thus reveal the ordinary realities of middle-class 
American existence. In these observational documenta- 
ries, the presence of the camera was not thought to affect 
the profilmic event to any significant degree, and if it did, 
filmmakers could search for "privileged moments" that 
would reveal the real person hiding behind the social 
facade. Perhaps the most extreme example of this 
approach was Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967), a 
film consisting entirely of a series of talking-head close- 
ups of an unsuccessful actor who, fueled by alcohol, 
marijuana, and prodding questions from behind the 




camera, lets down his smug imellectual persona and 
wallows in self-pity. 

In Great Britain in the 1950s, filmmakers such as 

Tony Richardson (1928-1991), Lindsay Anderson 
(1923-1994), and Karel Reisz (1926-2002) began mak- 
ing observational films of everyday life as part of the 
movement known as Free Cinema, often focusing on 
common aspects of popular culture. The Free Cinema 
movement consisted of six programs of films shown at 
the National Film Theater in London from 1956 to 
1959, including Anderson's O Dreamland {1955), about 
the Margate amusement park, and Every Day Except 
Christmas (1957), about activity in Covent Garden, and 
Reisz and Richardson's Momma Don't Allow (1955), a 
portrait of a jazz club. In France, anthropologist- 
filmmaker Jean Rouch (1917-2004) made a series of 
films about people and life in western Africa, often 
including their own voices on the soundtrack, as in 
Les Maitres fous {The Mad Masters, 1955), which 
records devotees of a religious cult speaking in tongues, 
and Jaguar (1967). Turning his camera closer to home, 
Rouch filmed a cross-section of Parisians in Chronique 
d'un ete {Chronicle of a Summer, 1961), co-directed with 
the sociologist Edgar Morin. Rather than being observ- 
ant flies on the wall, the filmmakers appeared onscreen, 
functioning as catalysts by asking their subjects provo- 
cative questions and freely interacting with them. The 
film was subtitled "une experience de cinema verite," 
and Rouch's assertive approach developed into the cin- 
ema verite style of observational documentary. And in 
Canada in the early 1960s, both English- and French- 
speaking Canadian filmmakers working for the National 
Film Board, founded by Grierson in 1939, concentrated 
on making films about ordinary people and events in 
order to "interpret Canada to Canadians and the rest of 
the world." The Board's initial focus was the produc- 
tion of wartime propaganda films, but in the early 
1960s it was a pioneer of observational documentary, 
both in its more passive direct cinema form in English 
Canada, with the films of Terence Macartney-Filgate, 
Roman BCriotor, and Wolf Koenig, and, in Quebec, of 
cinema verite. Michel Brault, who had photographed 
Chronique d'un ete, co-directed with Gilles Groulx Les 
Raquetteurs {The Snowshoers, 1958), a film about an 
annual snowshoe race that was a breakthrough in the 
representation of Quebecois life on the screen. 

In New York in the 1960s, a group of young film- 
makers organized by Robert Drew (b. 1924) began mak- 
ing films for Time, Inc., in an attempt to do a more 
truthful "pictorial journalism," as Louis de Rochemont 
had said of The March of Time. Known as the Drew 
Associates, the group included many of the pioneering 
figures of American observational cinema, including 
D. A. Pennebaker (b. 1925), Albert Maysles (b. 1926), 

and Richard Leacock, who had been the cameraman on 
Flaherty's last film, Louisiana Story, in 1949. The Drew 
Associates sought to be invisible observers of events tran- 
spiring before the camera — ideally, in Leacock's famous 
phrase, like a "fly on the wall." Primary (1960), about 
the Wisconsin presidential campaigns of John F. 
Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, showed the candidates 
both in public appearances and behind the scenes; and 
although it shows Kennedy as the more adept media 
personality, it avoids explicit political comment. A 
famous shot in the film follows Kennedy as he emerges 
from a car and enters a hall where he is about to speak, 
moving through a tightly packed crowd to the stage — all 
despite changing conditions of light, sound, and depth of 
field. Impressed by Primary, ABC contracted with Time, 
Inc., so that the Drew group became in effect a network 
unit. The Drew filmmakers made a series of nineteen 
pioneering films for television, beginning with Primary 
and ending with Crisis: Behind a Presidential 
Commitment in 1963. 

Their films tended to favor famous and exciting 

figures as their subjects: a race car driver in Eddie 
(Leacock and Pennebaker, 1960), film producer Joseph 
E. Levine in Showman (Albert and David Maysles, 1963), 
and pop stars in What's Happening! The Beatles in the 
U.S.A. (Maysles brothers, 1964). The documentaries of 
their contemporary Frederick Wiseman (b. 1930) focus 
on institutions rather than individuals, but his films were 
exceptions. Because celebrities, particularly pop-music 
stars, possess inherent commercial appeal, when these 
and other filmmakers sought to make feature-length 
documentaries they gravitated toward them as subjects; 
thus was created the "rockumentary" genre, with such 
films as Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) and The 
Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978). Perhaps the most 
notorious of these is Gimme Shelter (1970), by Albert and 
David Maysles (1931-1987) and Charlotte Zwerin, 
which focuses on the Rolling Stones' American tour. At 
the last concert of the tour, in Altamont, California, a 
man in the audience was stabbed to death by the Hell's 
Angels — a sensational event caught on camera. Because 
rockumentaries oft:en purport to show the person behind 
the persona, they remain popular with audiences, as the 
publicity surrounding Living with Michael Jackson: A 
Tonight Special (2003), which aired on network televi- 
sion, demonstrates. 

The documentary aesthetic also informed the New 
American Cinema movement of the 1950s and 1960s, 
much of it representing the seemingly antithetical tradi- 
tions of experimental or avant-garde film, as in the 
"diary" style of Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) and die 
structural films of Michael Snow (b. 1929). A film such 
as Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes 
(1971) is at once an experimental film, employing a 




b. Boston, Massachusetts, 1 January 1930 

A major figure in American documentary, Frederick 
Wiseman began making his extraordinary series of 
award-winning films during the direct cinema 
movement in the 1960s. Over the course of three 
decades he produced more than thirty feature-length 
documentaries and garnered numerous awards. Unlike 
the rich and famous individuals chronicled in the films 
of his contemporaries Richard Leacock, D. A. 
Pennebaker, and the Maysles brothers, Wiseman's 
films focus less on particular individuals than on 
institutions of various kinds, ranging from those 
concentrated within individual buildings (High School, 
1968) to those of international scope {Sinai Field 
Mission, 1978), and from institutions established and 
maintained by government {Juvenile Court, 1973) to 
those less tangible ones organized by principles of 
ideology and culture {Model, 1980). A former lawyer, 
Wiseman captures American life more fully than any 
other documentary filmmaker, and, taken together, his 
documentaries are a magnum opus about life in 
contemporary America. 

Wiseman began his career in film producing Shirley 
Clarke's The Cool World (1964), a fiction film about 
teenage gangs shot on location in Harlem. In 1967 he 
began his institutional series with Titicut Follies (1967), 
about life in a prison for the criminally insane in 
Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The film quickly became 
mired in lengthy litigation with state authorities, and the 
ensuing controversy established Wiseman's somewhat 
inaccurate reputation as an uncompromising muckraker. 
Although the earlier films do seem to be exposes, 
Wiseman's later films are less didactic and more complex 
aesthetically. Meat (1976), for example, is composed of 
many short shots, the duration of the cutting analogous to 
the repetitive slicing by the butchers; Model is a reflexive 
examination of modeling as the manufacturing of 
advertising images — a process not very different from 
some forms of filmmaking — and relies more on long 

During shooting, Wiseman operates the tape recorder 
rather than the camera. He determines where the camera 
goes through a series of hand signals worked out in 
advance with his camera operator or by leading him with 
the microphone. This method gives him greater freedom 
to see what is around him than if he were looking at 
profilmic events through the viewfinder of the camera. 

Wiseman encourages a reading of each institution as a 
metaphor of American society at large. Thus, though at 
first glance Wiseman's films may seem to be fly-on-the- 
wall observation, they often rely on elements of cinematic 
style, particularly editing, to express his subjective vision of 
how institutions operate and what their significance is 
culturally. If Wiseman's documentaries are news, they are 
also editorials, subjective accounts about the institutions 
on which he is reporting. More dialectical than didactic, 
Wiseman's films refuse to condescend to the viewer by 
assuming a position of authorial superiority. 


Titicut Follies (1967), High School (1968), Essene (1972), 
Primate (1974), Meat (1976), Model (1980), Near Death 
(1989), Public Housing (1997), Belfast, Maine (1999), 
Domestic Violence (2001) 


Anderson, Carolyn, and Thomas W. Benson. Documentary 
Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman 's Titicut Follies. Carbondale 
and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 

Atkins, Thomas R., ed. Frederick Wiseman. New York: Simon 
& Schuster, 1976. 

Benson, Thomas W., and Carolyn Anderson. Reality Fictions: 
The Films of Frederick Wiseman. Carbondale and 
Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. 

Grant, Barry Keith. Voyages of Discovery: The Cinema of 
Frederick Wiseman. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 

, ed. Five Films by Frederick Wiseman: Titicut Follies, 

High School, Welfare, High School II, Public Housing. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. 

Barry Keith Grant 





variety of expressive cinematic techniques, and a docu- 
mentary, showing the different steps in the autopsy proc- 
ess. In many experimental films the otherwise diverse 
documentary and avant-garde impulses come together 
in the shared aim of allowing the viewer to look at 
something in a new or different way. 


Observational films seemed more truthful in large part 
because they were not constrained by earlier technological 
limitations that often required more overt manipulation. 
"Dramatic reconstruction" was conventional in documen- 
taries concerning people and events before the invention of 
the camera. Early documentaries, like Biograph's Eruption 
ofMt. Vesuvius (1905), often used scale-model replicas in 
place of actuality footage in films. The March of Time, 
which began in 1935, freely combined actuality footage 
with dramatized sequences in a style that Henry Luce, head 
of Time, called "fakery in allegiance to the truth" 
(Barnouw, p. 121). The ideology of observational docu- 
mentary has become so standard that its stylistic conven- 
tions, such as the jerky movements of the handheld camera, 
noticeable changes in focus, and the graininess of fast film 

stock, have become the common techniques for represent- 
ing a "reality effect" in fiction film and on commercial 
television in both dramatic shows and commercials. 

Nevertheless, questions concerning the camera's 
physical presence, along with the issue of whether and 
to what extent the camera exploits or documents its social 
actors, have been hody debated issues concerning both 
Griersonian-style and observational documentary. Films 
such as Portrait of Jason and the Maysles brothers' Grey 
Gardens (1975), about an eccentric mother and daughter 
who live as recluses in a decaying mansion, foreground 
these ethical issues because of the filmmakers' apparent 
encouragement of their social actors to display themselves 
for the camera. But in fact ethical questions have sur- 
rounded the making of documentaries since the genre's 

Although the immediacy of observational cinema 
made the stylistic conventions associated with the 
Griersonian tradition seem outmoded and ideologically 
suspect, manipulation in documentary inevitably is a mat- 
ter of degree. For although documentaries are factual, they 
are never objective or ideologically neutral. Aesthetic 
choices such as the selection of camera position, angles, 
and movement; lighting; and editing make the expression 
of point of view or perspective unavoidable, even if unin- 
tentional. Just as the "fly on the wall" aesthetic of the 
Drew filmmakers was compromised to some extent by 
the commercial imperatives of television, so the nature of 
the film medium ensures that the hand of the maker must 
always work over the raw material on the editing table. 
Dead Birds (Robert Gardner, 1965), which aimed at being 
an ethnographic study of the Dugum Dani culture in New 
Guinea, is almost embarrassing today for the degree to 
which it presumes to attribute values and thoughts to the 
people it presents as characters in a narrative. 

The debate around documentary film's moral obliga- 
tion to be objective, or at least fair, has been rekindled by the 
recent and commercially successful films of Michael Moore, 
who makes no secret of his political views but rather speaks 
out on political issues. His first film, Roger &Me (1989), the 
most commercially successftil documentary to date, estab- 
lished Moore's trademark approach, a combination of an 
unabashedly personal tone, his own provocative verite pres- 
ence, and a strong sense of humor. He has been attacked for 
manipulating facts and for violating ethical proprieties, as 
when in Bowling for Columbine (2002) he ambushes the 
actor Charlton Heston, then president of the National Rifle 
Association, questioning him about his culpabihty in the 
accidental death of a child by gunfire. 

Although for many viewers documentary still means 
objectivity, today it is much more commonly accepted 
that documentaries are inevitably biased. This is probably 
less a postmodern crisis in signification than the result of 




Filmmaker Michael Moore receives a rifle for opening a bank account in Bowling for Columbine (2002). © united artists/ 


the proliferation of camcorders and a greater increase in 
basic visual literacy. Yet it is symptomatic that many 
documentaries of the late twentieth and early twenty-first 
centuries, such as The Thin Blue Line (1988), seek to 
uncover ambiguities of truth rather than a unified, sin- 
gular Truth. Stylistically, nonfiction films are now 
employing a more pronounced mixing of modes, com- 
bining elements of fiction and documentary, or creating 
an ambiguity concerning their documentary status, as in 
Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991). British documentary 
filmmaker Nick Broomfield places himself squarely 
within his films as a character seeking the truth about 
his subject, whether about the murder of grunge rock 
icon Kurt Cobain in Kurt & Courtney (1998) or the 
female serial killer Aileen Wournos in Aileen: Life and 
Death of a Serial Killer (2003), but never quite finding it. 
Broomfield's quandary as a documentary filmmaker 
bespeaks contemporary viewers' loss of faith in the ability 
of documentary film to provide unequivocal truths. 

Documentary film also has been critiqued from 
postcolonial and feminist perspectives. Robert Flaherty's 
films have come to be seen as examples of a white 
Eurocentric perspective imposed on other cultures. This 
colonizing gaze informs much of the history of trave- 
logues and other documentary filmmaking; it is partic- 

ularly egregious in the films of Martin E. Johnson 
(1884-1937) and Osa Johnson (1894-1953), such as 
Simba: The King of the Beasts (1928) and Congorilla 
(1932), which paraded "primitive" natives in front of 
the camera for comic relief along with local fauna. Luis 
Bunuel's Las Hurdes [Land Without Bread, 1933), an 
audacious documentary about an impoverished region 
of Spain and its inhabitants, is regarded as one of the 
first films to be aware of the imbalance of power between 
First World filmmakers and their less wealthy subjects. T. 
Minh-ha Trinh, a teacher and theorist as well as a prac- 
ticing filmmaker, has employed a variety of expressive 
techniques in documentaries such as Naked Spaces: Living 
Ls Round (1985) and Surname Viet Given Name Nam 
(1989) to give voice to women in other cultures. 

Documentary filmmakers have sought to use docu- 
mentary politically to help create a sense of shared purpose, 
to offer the legitimation of subcultures through the presen- 
tation of recognizable images that have been marginalized 
by mainstream or dominant culture. In the 1950s 
Quebecois filmmakers discovered that training the camera 
on themselves facilitated the Quiet Revolution, the prov- 
ince's discovery of itself as a new and distinct culture within 
Canada. The heightened political polarization of the 
Vietnam era influenced the pronounced partisanship of 




many documentaries, as in the work of Peter Davis {The 
Sellingof the Pentagon, \97\; Hearts and Minds, 1974). The 
introduction in the 1960s of video porta-paks and public 
access of local cable TV allowed for grassroots concerns to 
be heard. Some filmmakers, such as Emile de Antonio 
(1920—1989), established themselves as counter-culture 
heroes by making documentaries that exposed government 
corruption {Point of Order, 1964, about the 1954 Army- 
McCarthy Senate hearings) or challenged official policies 
{Rush to Judgment, 1967, about the report of the Warren 

Much contemporary documentary practice contin- 
ues to be politically engaged, and some films — Harlan 
County, U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, 1976), The Panama 
Deception (Barbara Trent, 1992), The Fog of War (Errol 
Morris, 2003) — are able to find limited commercial dis- 
tribution. Documentary film's appeal has filtered down 
to mainstream popular culture in the television expose 
form, in such shows as 60 Minutes, the most successful 
nonfiction series in television history, and on reality-TV. 
Subcultures and various interest groups have used the 
documentary successfully to help develop a sense of 
identity and solidarity. In the 1970s feminist documen- 
tary filmmakers developed a distinctively intimate, 
"talking-head" style that promoted the shared rediscov- 
ery of mutual experience with the viewer, as in With 
Babies and Banners (Lorraine Gray, 1978) and The Life 
and Times of Rosie the Riveter (Connie Field, 1980). 
Documentaries about gay sexuality, such as Word Is 
Out (Rob Epstein, 1978) and The Times of Harvey Milk 
(Epstein, 1984), appeared with the emergence of the gay 
movement in the 1980s. In Tongues Untied (1990) 
Marlon Riggs (1957—1994) explored issues of gay black 
identity. Since the 1980s many documentaries have 
addressed AIDS, chronicling the struggles of its victims 
and promoting awareness. 

SEE ALSO Camera; Ideology; Propaganda; Russia and 
Soviet Union; Technology; World War II 


Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Nonfiction Film. 
New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. 

Barsam, Richard Meran. Nonfiction Film: A Critical History. New 
York: Dutton, 1973. 

, ed. Nonfiction Film: Theory and Criticism. New York: 

Dutton, 1976. 

Ellis, Jack C. The Documentary Idea: A Critical History of English- 
Language Documentary Film and Video. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 
Prentice-Hall, 1989. 

Grant, Barry Keith, and Jeannette Sloniowski. Documenting the 
Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. 
Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1998. 

Hardy, Forsyth. Grierson on Documentary. London and Boston: 
Faber and Faber, 1979. 

Jacobs, Lewis, ed. The Documentary Tradition, 2nd ed. New 
York: Norton, 1979. 

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical 
Reality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. 

Mamber, Stephen. Cinema Verite in America: Studies in 
Uncontrolled Documentary. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 


Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in 

Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. 

Renov, Michael. Theorizing Documentary. New York and 
London: Routledge, 1993. 

Rothman, William. Documentary Film Classics. Cambridge, UK 
and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 

Stott, William. Documentary Expression and Thirties America. 
New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. 

Trinh, T. Minh-ha. Framer Framed. New York and London: 
Routledge, 1992. 

Waugh, Thomas, ed. "Show Us Life": Toward a History and 
Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary. Metuchen, NJ, and 
London: Scarecrow Press, 1984. 

Barry Keith Grant 




Dubbing and subtitling are two major types of screen 
translation, the two most used in the global distribution 
and consumption of filmic media. Since their arrival with 
the introduction of sound to cinema, both have been seen 
as compromised methods of translating dialogue because 
they interfere in different ways with the original text, 
sound track, or image. Since the early 1 930s, most coun- 
tries have tended to favor either one mode or the other. 
While there are many forms of language versioning or 
transfer in current use in the global audiovisual indus- 
tries, and any one of these might be used in some cases 
on its own or in combination with others, dubbing and 
subtitling have remained the most recognizable, as well as 
the most debated, methods for cinema. 


Dubbing is a form of post-synchronized revoicing that 
involves recording voices that do not belong to the on- 
screen actors, speaking in a language different from 
that of the source text and ideally in synch with the 
film image. But dubbing can also refer more generally 
to adding or replacing sound effects or spoken lines by 
the source actors themselves in the language of the 
film's production, often because of poor sound quality 
in the original recording or for the deletion of exple- 
tives from the theatrical version for release on tele- 
vision. While this latter form of post-synchronized 
revoicing is present in virtually all modern films, it is 
often called "looping" to distinguish it from dubbing 
as language translation. Another form of revoicing is 
the "voice-over," in which a nonsynchronous voice 
that does not replace the source text and language is 
added to the sound track but does not replace the 

source text and language. Popular in Russia and 
Poland and used more in television than in film trans- 
lation, voice-over is a relatively minor mode compared 
to dubbing and subtitling. 

Subtitling, like voice-over, presents the translated 
and source languages simultaneously, but it transforms 
speech into writing without altering the source sound 
track. Subtitling may be either intralingual or interlin- 
gual. In the former, the written text that appears over the 
image is that of the source language. This kind of sub- 
titling, for viewers who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, is 
often called "captioning," and it is in prevalent use in 
television broadcasting. Interlingual subtitling translates 
the source language into the target language (or lan- 
guages) in the form of one or more lines of synchronized 
written text. These verbal messages may include not only 
speech, such as dialogue, commentary, and song lyrics, 
but also displays, such as written signs and newspaper 
headlines. Subtitles usually appear at the bottom of the 
screen, though their placement may vary among language 
groups. In bilingual subtitling countries such as Belgium, 
Finland, and Israel, film subtitles are often present in 
both languages. 

The national preferences for subtitled or dubbed 
films stem from several factors, including historical and 
political circumstances, traditions and industries, costs, 
the form to which audiences are accustomed, and the 
generic and artistic standing of the films themselves. 
Before these can be considered, it is necessary to address 
the historical circumstances that gave rise to dubbing and 
subtitling and to their emergence as the preferred forms 
of verbal translation in film. 



Dubbing and Subtitling 


Silent films presented few problems for language transfer, 
though they still entailed translation for international 
audiences. While silent films were well suited to consump- 
tion in a variety of cultural contexts, this was due less to 
their status as a universal language of images than to their 
intertides and the flexibihty they provided. Intertitles were 
not simply translated from source to target languages but 
creatively adapted to cater to diverse national and language 
groups: the names of characters, settings and plot develop- 
ments, and other cultural references were altered as neces- 
sary in order to make the films internationally 
understandable for different national audiences. By 1927, 
the intertides of Hollywood films were routinely translated 
into as many as thirty-six languages. 

With the sound film, it was no longer possible 
simply to replace intertides. Subtitling and dubbing have 
been in use since 1929, but when the first American 
sound films reached Europe they did not immediately 
become the preferred solutions to the new problem of 
sound film translation. Instead, multilingual productions 
or multiple language versions (MLVs) experienced a 
period of ascendency and decline from 1929 to 1933. 
During this time, American film studios either brought 
foreign directors, scriptwriters, and actors to Hollywood 
or set up film production studios in Europe. Warner 
Bros, was the first American producer to engage in 
MLV production, with some European producers and 
all of the major Hollywood studios following suit. 
Paramount invested the most, building a huge studio in 
early 1930, at JoinviUe in the suburbs of Paris, that was 
soon producing films in as many as fourteen different 
languages. Films that were shot simultaneously in two or 
three languages usually had just one director, but for a 
higher number of MLVs each could have a different 
director. Polyglot actors might perform in more than 
one language version, but the norm was different casts 
for different versions. Sets and costumes were reused, 
which meant shooting versions in shifts according to a 
twenty-four-hour schedule. Production time was short, 
often less than two weeks per feature. At its peak, 
between March 1930 and March 1931, JoinviUe turned 
out an astonishing one hundred features and fifty shorts. 

Despite such rationing of production time, MLVs 
meant an enormous increase in costs, and their standar- 
dized plots worked against satisfying the cultural diversity 
of their target audiences. Their lack of profitability, inabil- 
ity to meet generic requirements across cultures, and the 
perception that they were purely commercial products led 
to a precipitous decline in MLVs, with Hollywood ceasing 
multilingual production entirely in 1933 and Germany 
and France soon thereafter. Although many established 

and promising young directors made MLVs, few of their 
works are considered to be of lasting artistic value. An 
exception is Josef von Sternberg's Der Blaue Engel {The 
Blue Angel, 1930), shot in English and German versions 
for Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft) and 
Paramount. The Blue Angel was a substantial international 
hit and features the same actors (Emil Jannings and 
Marlene Dietrich) voicing their lines in both versions. 

While the MLVs are generally considered to be a failed 
experiment of the early sound period, multilingual versions 
continued to be made sporadically in Europe. Jean Renoir's 
Le carrosse d'or {The Golden Coach, 1953), for example, was 
shot at Cinecitta with a largely Italian cast, most of whom, 
including the star, Anna Magnani (1908-1973), played 
and spoke ail three languages in separately shot English, 
Italian, and French versions. Werner Herzog's Nosferatu: 
Phantom der Nacht {Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979) was 
double shot, with the same cast performing separate 
German and English versions. 


The most common explanation for the divide between dub- 
bing and subtiding countries derives from cost: dubbing, the 
more expensive translation mode, is adopted by the larger, 
wealthier countries with significant single-language com- 
munities, subtiding by the smaller countries whose audiences 
comprise more restricted markets. While there is some truth 
to this rationale, cost alone does not dictate national choice: 
small Central European countries such as Bulgaria, the 
Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia prefer dubbing, 
despite its high cost. Historical and political developments, 
along with tradition, are equally important faaors. 

In Western Europe, dubbing emerged in the early 
1930s as the standard method of language transfer in 
France, Italy, Germany, and Spain (sometimes referred to 
as the FIGS group). In France, where the JoinviUe studio 
was converted into a dubbing center, the supremacy of 
dubbing derives from the nation's cultural mission to pre- 
serve and protect the French language in the face of foreign 
(especially American) influence, and the prevalence of 
French as the lingua franca for a populace accustomed to 
hearing it in its own films. For the other countries of the 
FIGS group, culture and political ideology were determin- 
ing causes. Italy, Germany, and Spain, all of which faced 
cultural boycotts in the mid- 1 930s and were ruled by fascist 
governments, only allowed dubbed versions of foreign 
films. The dictators of these countries understood how 
hearing one's own language served to confirm its impor- 
tance and reinforce a sense of national identity and 
autonomy. In Italy especially — where most people, includ- 
ing the filmmakers themselves, spoke dialect rather than the 
official Tuscan — dubbing forged the synthetic unity of a 
shared national langu^e. As early as 1929, Benito 



Dubbing and Subtitling 

Mussolini's government decreed that all films projected on 
Italian screens must have an Italian-language sound track 
regardless of where it was produced. Both Francisco 
Franco's Spain and Adolf Hitler's Germany established 
strict quotas regarding imports, almost all of which 
were dubbed. Through the quickly established and stand- 
ardized dubbing industries that were built up in these 
nations, dubbed movies came to be seen as local produc- 
tions. The highly developed and still active dubbing indus- 
tries in these countries are thus remnants of their political 
contexts of the early 1930s, when sound film emerged. 

Dubbing is a labor-intensive process. In a sound 
booth, dubbing actors view film segments repeatedly while 
voicing their lines from a prepared script. Several recording 
attempts may be necessary to achieve, as near as possible, 
the synchronization of translated lines of dialogue or other 
vocalizations with the lip movements of the original on- 
screen actors. Films are dubbed well or badly depending on 
the time and care taken and the resources devoted to the 
process. Until the 1960s, lip synchrony was held by the 
dubbing industry as the most important factor for sustain- 
ing the illusion of watching and hearing a homogeneous 
whole. Now, lip synch is considered to be of secondary 
importance, since research has shown that the viewer can- 
not discern minor slips and discrepancies in lip movements, 
and asynchrony is not bothersome to audiences in dubbing 
countries. Audio synchrony, or using voices that fit the 
characters on the screen, is important to the overall effect, 
and studios tend to employ the same dubbing actors for 
well-known foreign stars. This has led in some cases to 
voice actors achieving star power within the industry, or 
even becoming film actors in their own right: for example, 
Monica Vitti (b. 1931), the star of several Michelangelo 
Antonio ni films in the 1960s, came to the director's notice 
through a dubbing assignment for his film // Grido {The 
Cry, 1957). In the postwar Indian film industry (now 
commonly referred to as "Bollywood"), the ubiquitous 
song sequences are sung not by the actors but by profes- 
sional singers who can become as famous as the screen stars 
who lip-synch their recordings during shooting. 

Even in the dubbing countries there are sectors of 
the audience who prefer to watch subtitled films. In 
France these are advertised as "version originale sous- 
titree" ("original version with subtitles"); in Spain, cin- 
emas increasingly offer both subtitled and dubbed 
versions of foreign films. Source-language countries — 
which means English-speaking countries, especially the 
United States and the United Kingdom — import few 
films that are not in English and so use these language 
transfer modes as needed and in a mixed manner. But 
several non-English-speaking nations, many of which 
import a high proportion of films, prefer subtitling, 
including Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Japan, the 
Netherlands, Portugal, and the Scandinavian countries. 

Subtitling, more cost-effective than dubbing because 
it dispenses with sound recording and voice actors, is 
nonetheless complex work. The subtitling industry is 
not nationalized to the same degree as the dubbing one, 
since the translators are the key personnel and need not 
reside in the target country. But a primary issue for 
subtitling lies in the translation, which entails enormous 
cuts to the source dialogue — as much as half. While the 
ideal in subtitling is to translate each utterance in full, the 
limitation of screen space is a major obstacle. The average 
viewer's reading speed is 150—180 words per minute, 
with necessary intervals, which severely limits the dura- 
tion and hence completeness of the subtitles. The final 
part of the process involves striking a duplicate photo- 
graphic print of the master print, while simultaneously 
exposing it with titles to produce a new print with the 
titles "burned in." Companies hired to affix the subtitles 
to film prints face a myriad of possibilities concerning 
type size and typeface, background and placement, indi- 
cations for extended sentences and multiple speakers, and 
the like. As with dubbing, films can be subtitled well or 


Many introductory film textbooks discuss a debate 
regarding subtitled versus dubbed prints of foreign films 
viewed by Anglo-American film studies students, and all 
state a preference for subtitling. The case against dubbing 
includes imperfect synchronicity between lip and audio 
or voice and body, flatness of performances and acous- 
tics, and alteration or elimination of the original film's 
sound track and design. The quality of the acting is 
frequently noted as suffering in dubbed films, as the vocal 
qualities, tones, and rhythms of specific languages, com- 
bined with the gestures and facial expressions that mark 
national characters and acting styles, become literally lost 
in translation. While subtitling is acknowledged to have 
drawbacks as well — it is distracting and impedes concen- 
tration on the visuals and often leaves portions of the 
dialogue untranslated — it is seen to alter the source text 
the least and to enable the target audience to experience 
the authentic "foreignness" of the film. 

But this position often does not acknowledge the 
selected acceptance of dubbing in subtitling countries or 
cases where dubbing makes more sense than subtitling. 
Foreign films and television programs aimed at children 
are dubbed in target countries that tend otherwise to 
subtitle because their viewers have not yet learned to read 
or cannot read quickly enough for subtitles to be effec- 
tive. While serious moviegoers demand that art films be 
subtitled, they rarely complain that foreign films in 
lower, more commercial genres such as the "spaghetti 
western," ff.allo, martial arts, comedies, and anime are 



Dubbing and Subtitling 

usually released in dubbed versions. For Italian cinema, 
popular or art, the authenticity argument does not hold: 
almost all Italian films are shot silent and then dubbed 
after filming has been completed, so there is no original 
sound track to speak of. The postwar era saw increased 
levels of co-production among nations, with the casts of 
co-produced films often coming from different countries 
and not speaking the same languages; their parts were 
thus dubbed by voice actors of the country in which the 
film was shot, and the international nature of what is in 
fact a polyglot film was erased. Federico Fellini's La 
strada {The Road, 1954) features two lead performers 
from the United States speaking English (Anthony 
Quinn and Richard Basehart) and one from Italy speak- 
ing Italian (Giulietta Masina). In terms of screen time 
and verbal utterances, the two American actors predom- 
inate; the Italian lead's lines are negligible. In spite of 
this, Anglo-American purists invariably judge the 
dubbed-in-Italian, subtitled-in-English version to be the 
more authentic even though the lips of two of the three 
main characters are clearly out of synch with their voices 
and the film was shot without sound. 

The claim that subtitling involves the least interfer- 
ence with the original film is also arguable. Subtides 
obstruct the integrity of composition and mise-en-scene 
by leading the viewers' eyes to the bottom of the frame. 
They focus audience attention on the translated words 
and the actors speaking them to the exclusion of periph- 
eral or background dialogue, sound, or characters. They 
do not provide as full a translation as dubbing, and 
audiences of subtitled films do not experience the words 
and the expressions of the performers simultaneously. 
Subtitling may thus be regarded as undoing the synergy 
of performance and script, elevating selectively translated 
dialogue and downgrading the impact and importance of 
visual expression. 

Although neither subtitling nor dubbing is an ideal 
form of audiovisual translation, recent technological 
developments have widened their application and recep- 
tion. The number of individual sound tracks used in 
feature film sound design has increased (twenty-four 
tracks or more are now commonplace), as has the num- 
ber of sound tracks used in the dubbing process. When 
each speaking character has a separate voice track in the 
film's original recording, dubbing only for language is 
possible, leaving the rest of the original aural expression 
of the film intact. For subtitling, laser processing has 
enabled the introduction of larger letters, outlined words, 
broader color ranges, and translucent background bands 
to increase legibility. But it is digitalization that has 
brought the most dramatic changes. Analyzing and resyn- 
thesizing the voices of dubbing actors make it possible 

for intonation, tone, and timbre to be adjusted to match 
those of the source actors almost identically. Asynchrony 
between lip movements and translated revoicings can also 
be corrected digitally to achieve lip synchrony, which is 
especially important in close-ups. The introduction of 
"soft tides," which are similar to the simultaneous trans- 
lation one may experience with opera, has been enabled 
by CD-ROM technology and has allowed for high-qual- 
ity subtitling for films that have no existing subtitled 
prints, providing a cheaper and more easily transportable 
solution than the expensive process of burning subtitles 
onto a newly struck print. 

Finally, the introduction of Digital Video 
Broadcasting (DVB) and the Digital Versatile Disc 
(DVD) has produced increasing user choice and demand 
for television and film in other languages. Digital TV 
(DVB) enables transmission of a number of signals and 
thus live or simultaneous subtitling — a particularly 
important development for those countries accustomed 
to reading subtitles, as it means new access to foreign 
satellite channels. DVDs have become a crucial mode of 
film consumption. Their viewers can choose between 
dubbed or subtitled streams in a range of languages — 
up to four dubbing tracks and thirty-two subtitled tracks. 
Translations or subtitles are also required for the extra 
features frequendy found on DVDs, such as trailers, 
behind-the-scenes documentaries, and biographical infor- 
mation on key cast members. While the subtitling versus 
dubbing debate is unlikely to ever be resolved, digital 
technologies have provided new opportunities for both 
modes of audiovisual translation. 

SEE ALSO Dialogue; Sound; Technology 

Betz, Mark. "The Name above the (Sub)Title: Internationalism, 
Coproduction, and Polyglot European Art Cinema." Camera 
Obscura 46 (2001): 1-44. 

Danan, Martine. "Dubbing as an Expression of Nationalism." 
Meta: Journal des Traducteurs/Translator's Journal 36, no. 4 
(1991): 606-614. 

Egoyan, Atom, and Ian Balfour, eds. Subtides: On the Foreignness 
ofFUm. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004. 

Ivarsson, Jan, and Mary Carroll. Subtitling. Simrishamn, Sweden: 
TransEdit, 1998. 

Vincendeau, Ginette. "Hollywood Babel: The Coming of Sound 
and the Multiple-Language Version." Screen 29, no. 2 (Spring 
1988): 24-39. 

Whitman-Linsen, Candance. Through the Dubbing Glass: The 
Synchronization of American Motion Pictures into German, 
French, and Spanish. New York: Peter Lang, 1992. 

Mark Betz 




Emerging at the tail end of the nineteenth century, 
cinema owed its existence as a technological invention 
to key developments in motion study and optics, and, as 
a visual novelty to traditions of screened entertainment. 
The medium would soon shed its affiliation with science 
when its potential for widespread commercial success 
became more apparent, facilitating its entry into the 
mainstream of twentieth-century popular culture. Even 
so, cinema's earliest years were marked by a variety of 
representational tendencies and viewing contexts whose 
diversity would diminish once commercial imperatives 
imposed themselves more fully. Had cinema proved less 
successful, it might have enjoyed freedom from borrowed 
aesthetic conventions somewhat longer than it did. But 
by the first years of the new century, as films became 
longer and their content incorporated story material with 
greater regularity, the potential for the cinema to rival 
stage-based forms and generate greater profit attracted 
numerous entrepreneurs, leading to sustained growth 
throughout the early 1900s. 

Within ten years of the medium's debut, motion 
pictures had established themselves as a staple within 
the cultural landscape of most countries, and the uncer- 
tainty of the medium's novelty phase had been replaced 
by more concerted efforts to standardize the production 
of films for a growing audience. The increasing popular- 
ity of motion pictures meant that for the final ten years of 
the early cinema period, the medium would enter into a 
process of institutionalization. With movies readily avail- 
able in most urban areas and narrative the dominant 
form that most films assumed, the commercial future of 
cinema pointed progressively toward industrial models 
favoring rationalized modes of production and predict- 

able systems of distribution and exhibition. To some 
degree, the history of cinema's first years is a steady (if 
uneven) reduction of options, leading to the enshrine- 
ment of the feature-length fiction film, shown in theaters 
designed for movie projection. 


Building on the advancements made in series photogra- 
phy by such figures as Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) 
and Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) in the 1870s and 
1880s, coupled with the animation principles at the 
center of motion toys like the zoetrope, numerous inven- 
tors in the late nineteenth century attempted to devise an 
instrument that could produce the illusion of movement 
through the recording and playback of many photo- 
graphic images in rapid succession. The process required 
a flexible base medium, made available with the patenting 
of celluloid stock by George Eastman (1854-1932) in 
1889, and an intermittent mechanism that would allow 
the film to pass through the camera, pause for recording, 
and then proceed without tearing. Parallel experimenta- 
tion resulted in workable motion picture cameras in many 
countries at virtually the same time: William Kennedy 
Laurie Dickson (1860-1935), working for Thomas Alva 
Edison (1847-1931), developed the kinetograph in the 
United States, while Louis and Auguste Lumiere perfected 
the cinematographe in France, and Robert W. Paul (1869— 
1943), in collaboration with Birt Acres (1854-1918), and 
William Friese-Greene (1855—1921), working separately, 
devised cameras in England. 

The kinetograph and the cinematographe proved the 
most successful of these inventions, the former propelled 


Early Cinema 

by the business acumen of Edison and the latter spurred 
by its incorporation of three functions (camera, printer, 
and projector) into one machine. In fact, the portabihty 
and flexibility of the cinematographe led the Lumiere 
brothers to send camera operators around the globe, 
and screenings of their films became the inaugural expe- 
rience of motion picture projection in many countries in 
1896, including Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Egypt. 
The most famous of the Lumiere screenings took place in 
the Grand Cafe of Paris on 28 December 1895, often 
singled out as the first public exhibition of motion pic- 
tures for a paying audience, and thus the inauguration of 
cinema as a commercial enterprise. Though Edison had 
already been filming subjects with the kinetograph since 
1893, these films could only be viewed for the first few 
years on a private viewing machine called a kinetoscope; 
projection of Edison films on a screen before an audience 
did not occur in the United States until 23 April 1896 
with the debut of the Vitascope, a projecting device 
developed by Thomas Armat (1866-1948) but marketed 
as Edison's own. 

The earliest films tended to be brief, often lasting no 
longer than a minute. Because the first audiences 
appeared to respond to the visual appeal of oversized, 
moving images projected before them, subjects were 
deliberately varied, ranging from the observation of inti- 
mate actions {Baby's Breakfast, 1895) to larger-scaled 
events {Train Arriving at the Station, 1895). The 
Lumieres quickly became known for their recordings of 
seemingly unstaged events, often labeled actualites, while 
Edison's first films tended to be brief records of vaude- 
ville performances. Initially restricted to the confines of 
the Edison studio, called the Black Maria, kinetoscope 
subjects played up the performative value of their act, be 
it the flexing of Sandow the Strongman's muscles or the 
swirling skirts of Annabelle. Though relatively static, 
these films emphasized cinema's appeal as a permanent 
record of a moment's movement in time, the camera 
capturing whatever was placed before it for posterity, in 
much the same way that still photography had done in 
previous decades. 

The cinematographe had the added advantage of 
increased mobility, thereby allowing the Lumiere camera 
operators to pursue a wider range of actions in their 
natural settings. This meant that the Lumiere films could 
trade on the recognition that familiar places possessed for 
local audiences as well as exploiting the exoticism of far- 
away locales. Equally important to the success of these 
early actualites was the way they fiinctioned as visual 
newspapers, giving imagistic weight to events of the 
day, such as natural disasters or visits by royal dignitaries. 

For the first few years, the vast majority of films were 
single shots, and it was left to exhibitors to combine these 

shots into longer works if they so desired. The elabora- 
tion of films into multi-shot entities occurred with 
greater regularity after 1900, and with this shift came a 
concomitant increase in filmed narratives. Nonetheless, 
early films offered a surprisingly diverse array of formal 
strategies: while many films employed a fixed camera 
position that kept filmed subjects at a considerable dis- 
tance, others exploited the camera's capacity for magni- 
fication by employing a series of closely scaled shots (for 
example, Grandma's Reading Glass, 1900) or featuring a 
constantly moving camera, either as a panorama or 
mounted on a mobile vehicle, particularly locomotives, 
for a cycle of films often labeled "kinesthetic films" or 
"phantom rides." 

One notable feature of many early films is their self- 
conscious use of features that created visual pleasure: the 
mobile camera in the kinesthetic films and the masked 
close-ups in various peephole films stress the capacity of 
the medium to provide a technologically enhanced view 
that allows the spectator to see differently. This approach 
operated in contradistinction to later, more narratively 
oriented cinema in which style often functioned to 
underscore the story. The overt nature of aspects of early 
cinema style has led some commentators, most notably 
Tom Gunning, to label the first ten years or so of film as 
constituting a cinema of attractions. The cinema of 
attractions is not defined so much by its unique attributes 
as by the distinct relationship it creates between the 
spectator and the film. In the cinema of attractions, film 
addresses itself directly to the viewer, often quite literally 
when vaudeville actors solicit the spectator's attention by 
looking directly toward the camera. More generally, it is 
the modus operandi of the films themselves that qualifies 
them for this designation, as they are designed to provoke 
an immediate reaction, predicated on shock or surprise, 
rather than on the cumulative pleasures that narrative 
films provide. One might think that the move to multi- 
shot films would have diluted the intensity of attractions, 
but at least initially, editing became another form of 
attraction. According to Gunning, in many of the early 
multi-shot films, editing becomes a kind of surprise in 
itself as in the fanciful transitions one observes in films 
such as Let Me Dream Again (1900) or 'What Happened in 
the Tunnel (1903) or the accelerated sensation of dis- 
placement and mobility editing helps to promote in 
chase films, in which large groups of people run from 
one locale to the next, the cut introducing a new setting 
while sustaining the sense of frantic movement. 

One feature of editing in early multi-shot films in 
particular that has invited scholarly attention is the pro- 
pensity toward noncontinuity in such films. Unlike later 
films, in which editing strives to promote a sense of 
continuity by disguising the potential disruptiveness of 
the cut, the editing in many early films draws attention to 



Early Cinema 

b. Connellsville, Pennsylvania, 21 April 1870, d. New York, 30 April 1941 

Often credited with popularizing the story film in the 
United States, Edwin S. Porter is most notable for 
embodying the diverse tendencies of early cinema. 
Commentators have referred to Porter as "Janus-faced," a 
figure who pointed toward the medium's future at the 
same time that he epitomized its period-bound qualities. 
In particular. Porter pioneered certain aspects of narrative 
filmmaking, such as linear editing and intertitles, while 
also adhering to many of early cinema's unique traits, such 
as temporal overlap and direct address of the camera by 

Porter entered the motion picture business as 
a traveling exhibitor, and that experience probably 
influenced his early experiments as a filmmaker. Hired by 
Edison to work on the company's projector in 1900, he 
soon became the firm's chief cameraman and head of 
production. From the outset, his interest in the types of 
transitions possible when moving from one shot to 
another is evident. Yet, for every film that features a fluid 
set of linked actions, such as The Great Train Robbery 
(1903), another one depends upon tableau — the story held 
together only by the audience's knowledge of the source 
material, as in Porter's adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin 
(1903). Porter's achievements crystallized that year, which 
also saw the release of Life of an American Fireman and The 
Gay Shoe Clerk, two of his best-known works, that 
demonstrate how point of view functions at this time. In Life 
of an American Fireman, his insistence on showing the event 
in its entirety from one perspective and then again from 
another highlights the importance of retaining an established 
viewpoint, even at the expense of intimating simultaneity. 
In The Gay Show Clerk, the famous close-up of a stocking- 
clad ankle demonstrates how magnification of detail can 

satisfy the viewer's voyeuristic desire for illicit visual 

Though Porter continued to find success with such 
nickelodeon-era shorts as The Kleptomaniac and the 
Winsor McCay— inspired Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (both 
1906), his style of filmmaking did not survive the changes 
wrought by increased narrational self-sufficiency during 
the transitional period. By 1908, his approach already 
seemed antiquated, and he was let go by Edison the 
following year. He continued to work in the industry, 
lasting into the feature era to become production head at 
Famous Players in 1912. But his interests focused on the 
development of cinematic technology from 1915 onward. 
Fittingly, given his beginnings in the industry, his final 
lasting contribution was the shepherding of the Simplex 
projector to a position of supremacy. 


The Finish of Bridget McKeen (1901), Uncle Josh at the Moving 
Picture Show (1902), Life of an American Fireman (1903), 
Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), The Great Train Robbery 
(1903), European Rest Cure (1904), The Seven Ages (1905), 
The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906), Kathleen 
Mavourneen (1906), The "Teddy" Bears (1907) 


Burch, Noel. "Porter, or Ambivalence." Screen 14, no. 4 
(1978/79): 91-105. 

Gaudreault, Andre. "Detours in Film Narrative: The 

Development of Cross-Cutting." Cinema Journal 19, 

no. 1 (1979): 39-59. 
Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and 

the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley: University 

of California Press, 1991. 

Charlie Keil 

itself. Moreover, the logic of editing in multi-shot films 
follows a principle whereby, as Andre Gaudreault has 
noted, autonomy of space overrides temporal unity. 
The clearest demonstration of his observation can be seen 
in instances of temporal overlap, in which a portion of 
the time frame from a previous shot is repeated in a 
subsequent shot, the action in the latter occurring in a 
different locale or viewed from a changed perspective. 
The most celebrated case of temporal overlap occurs in 

Edwin S. Porter's (1870—1941) Life of an American 
Fireman (1903), when the rescue of the mother and child 
from the burning building is shown twice, both from 
within the building and from the outside. Though later 
practice (and a subsequently re-edited version of the film) 
would rely on crosscutting to portray the same action 
from two vantage points, at this stage in early cinema's 
stylistic development, it apparently made more sense to 
show the action in its entirety from one perspective 



Early Cinema 

before shifting to another. Rather than a mistake, tem- 
poral overlap should be understood as evidence that the 
logic underwriting early cinema style traded on distinc- 
tive viewing procedures and the influence of other, visu- 
ally based storytelling forms prevalent at the time. 


One of those influential forms was the magic lantern 
show, which depended on projected images to tell stories 
visually. Charles Musser, among others, has suggested 
that film exhibition practice developed within traditions 
of screen entertainment aligned with such media as magic 
lanterns and stereopticons. Highly dependent on lec- 
turers, elaborate transitional effects, and a multitude of 
still images, magic lantern shows may have affected the 
way early film exhibition developed in a variety of ways. 
For one, they provided a model for exhibitors to con- 
struct programs of single-shot films that had the potential 
to transform the material into something entirely differ- 
ent. Depending on the will and the creativity of the 
exhibitor, various short films could be combined into 
multi-shot assemblages, whose meaning might be further 
transformed by an accompanying text read by a lecturer. 
This allowed the exhibitor to function as a proto-editor 
in the years before multi-shot films became the industry 
norm. As Musser has also argued, the power of the exhib- 
itor to supply additional narrational force to the films he 
projected complicates the applicability of the cinema of 
attractions model, insofar as the films might have been 
understood quite differently, depending on how they were 

Nonetheless, Gunning has found further confirma- 
tion of the pervasiveness of attractions by considering the 
effect of exhibition on early films. Because films often 
fijnctioned as one act among many on a vaudeville bill, 
their status as attractions was reinforced by the modular 
presentational format of vaudeville itself. Much like the 
variety acts it was sandwiched among, the short film 
traded on making an immediate impact on its audience 
before being replaced by some other, disparate piece of 
entertainment. In other words, the vaudeville program 
fostered early cinema's tendency toward surprise and 
novelty by virtue of the interchangeability of elements 
on any given bill. Even when cinema came to be shown 
in theaters designed primarily for film exhibition, this 
variety format persisted, placing film among a host of 
appealing entertainments, including illustrated songs, lec- 
turers, and vaudeville acts, only now these elements sup- 
ported the films. 

Before films found themselves featured as the main 
attraction in venues specifically built or reconfigured for 
the purpose of screening them (these were typically 
termed nickelodeons in the United States), cinema 

appeared in a variety of exhibition sites. The diversity 
of places films were screened points to the broad poten- 
tial envisioned for film from the outset. Everywhere from 
outdoor fairs to department stores, opera houses to dime 
museums, offered films. The venue and context deter- 
mined the role films would play: films documenting war- 
related activities might be screened in a community hall 
to boost morale during wartime, while a church might 
show a filmed Passion Play to coincide with a religious 
service. In certain countries, particularly in Europe, itin- 
erant exhibitors played a crucial role in spreading cinema 
across the countryside, often screening films in the fair- 
ground circuit. For this reason, films tended to be sold 
outright, since exhibitors would move from site to site, 
ideally finding new audiences for their programs at each 

Such strategies failed to build a permanent base for 
cinema's growth, however, and risked alienating audien- 
ces who might be exposed to either worn-out prints or 
collections of titles already viewed. In the United States, 
the solution to such problems arose in the form of the 
film exchange, an early type of film distribution in which 
a middleman bought prints and then rented them out to 
exhibitors at a fraction of the purchase price. The inau- 
guration of the exchange system facilitated the establish- 
ment of permanent movie theaters in America, providing 
exhibitors with a steady supply of reliable prints at a 
reduced cost. 

How is it that motion pictures had achieved a suffi- 
cient level of popularity by 1903-1905 to entice enter- 
prising business people to risk investing in the exchange 
system and then in permanent exhibition sites? Scholars 
differ in their explanations, but the increased production 
of longer story films, most obviously Le voyage dans la lune 
{A Trip to the Moon [1902]) and The Great Train Robbery 
(1903), must have played a significant role, as both these 
films proved to be successes with the moviegoing pubhc. 

Still more questions arise concerning just who that 

moviegoing public might have been. It has frequently 
been assumed that the audience for early cinema was 
composed primarily of working-class, immigrant men 
(at least in the United States), that conclusion reached 
on the basis of contemporaneous reports and the loca- 
tions of theaters. Though such a portrait of the American 
moviegoer might have been accurate in the initial years of 
the nickelodeon boom, it scarcely does justice to the 
diversity of audiences viewing cinema during the entirety 
of the early cinema period and in regions and countries 
beyond that of the United States' industrialized north- 
east. Accounts of well-heeled patrons frequenting motion 
picture programs at private salons in turn-of-the-century 
France, fairground visitors of all ages and social back- 
grounds taking in films as part of the presentations by 



Early Cinema 

Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903) marked a number of advances in the story film. EVERETT collection. 


traveling showmen in Great Britain, and rural, middle- 
class churchgoers viewing films at a Chautauqua in the 
rural Midwest of the United States indicate that motion 
pictures attracted different types of audiences, depending 
on the venue and the mode of presentation. 

Nonetheless, much has been made of the anxiety 
that cinema engendered among those who felt compelled 
to protect citizens from society's evils. Reformers feared 
the potentially negative effects of cinema from the outset, 
and as permanent homes for film exhibition became 
established, efforts at regulation found an easy target. 
Nickelodeons were criticized for being dark, dirty sites 
of social mixing. Ironically, the National Board of 
Censorship (NBC) came into being in the United States 
as a defensive strategy on the part of exhibitors reacting to 
the citywide closing of nickelodeons by New York's mayor 
in 1908. One can see the estabHshment of the NBC as the 

first in a series of self-regulatory moves made by the 
American film industry to circumvent state-controlled 
censorship. At the same time, it demonstrates how 
early — and how closely — exhibition and regulation are 
tied together, and how principles of regulation are formu- 
lated with an eye to "protecting vulnerable" audience 
members from the excesses of motion picture content, 
thereby controlling their behavior by shaping the films 
those audience members will see. In the years after 1908, 
the film industry would exercise progressively greater con- 
trol over every aspect of the film experience, from produc- 
tion through to exhibition, in attempts to standardize the 
product and its entry into a growing marketplace. 


Early production in the preeminent film-producing 
nations of France, Great Britain, and the United States 



Early Cinema 


has often been likened to a cottage industry. Firms 
tended to be fairly small and typically operated in an 
artisanal fashion, which restricted their ability to respond 
to increased demand with expanded output. When the 
equipment permitted it, actualites could be filmed by a 
single cameraperson, but a collaborative model of film- 
making usually prevailed for fictional works, indicating 
that a division of labor was deemed appropriate from the 
outset in the production of story films. France proved 
most forward-thinking in this regard, particularly the 
firms of Gaumont and Pathe: the latter moved to a 
director-unit system of production by 1906, in which 
numerous directors (overseen by supervising producer 
Ferdinand Zecca [1864-1947]) worked with their own 
small crews to put out a film on a weekly basis, while 
prints were mass-produced, courtesy of a workforce over 
1,000 strong. The growth of these companies allowed 

them to produce films at a prodigious rate and to move 
beyond the relatively small market of France to become 
dominant internationally. Diversification of product 
further differentiated Pathe and Gaumont from their 
chief French competitor, Georges Melies (1861-1938). 
Whereas Melies tended to concentrate on trick films and 
feeries (elaborate story films employing fantasy), the other 
two companies produced a range of films, eventually 
incorporating melodramas and chase films into the mix. 
Pathe, always the most enterprising of the French firms, 
capitalized on the limited capacity of the major American 
producers of the mid- 1900s (Edison, Biograph, 
Vitagraph, Selig, and Lubin) and easily dominated the 
US market once it started distributing its films there in 

England's companies proved far less stable than 
those of France but still enjoyed periods of prominence, 



Early Cinema 

especially in the early years of the twentieth century. 
There were several notable firms, most of which operated 
on an artisanal model. These included the company 
headed by early pioneer Robert W. Paul, whose success 
in manufacturing equipment led him to film production; 
those producers belonging to the so-called "Brighton 
School," chief among them G. A. Smith (1864-1959) 
and James Williamson (1855-1933), as well as the most 
successful and durable of the British filmmakers, Cecil 
Hepworth (1873-1953). The stylistic range of British 
films was particularly impressive, incorporating the self- 
consciously inventive trick comedy of two films from 
1900, Williamson's The Big Swallow and Hepworth's 
How It Peek to Be Run Over (both convincing examples 
of how attractions-era filmmaking could render acknowl- 
edgment of the camera's presence a source of uniquely 
cinematic humor, Hepworth's involving reformulation of 
the chase film), the enterprising use of cut-ins in Smith's 
Sick Kitten and transitional devices in his Mary Jane's 
Mishap (both from 1903), and the multi-shot Rescued 
by Rover (1905). The latter proved one of England's most 
popular productions, so much so that Hepworth had to 
shoot the film several times as each of the negatives wore 
out. In its fusing of proven plot situations (stolen child 
saved by heroic dog) with propulsive linear editing, 
Rescued by Rover points toward the last-minute rescue 
scenario perfected by D. W. Griffith (1875-1948) a 
few years later at Biograph. 

In the United States, the relatively stagnant produc- 
tion levels before 1908 can be attributed in part to 
Edison's continued threats of legal reprisals for patent 
violation. While two firms, Kalem and Essanay, entered 
into production in 1907, the output of American com- 
panies lagged far behind the nickelodeon-fueled demand, 
allowing Pathe's films and other imports to command 75 
percent of the American market. The solution to the 
patent infringement impasse came in the form of a patent 
pooling agreement reached in late 1908; after it, produc- 
tivity by American firms increased significandy. 

The company established to implement the condi- 
tions of this agreement was known as the Motion Picture 
Patents Company (MPPC). All the major American pro- 
ducers became members and complied with its policies. 
The MPPC aimed to control every aspect of the industry 
by implementing a system of royalties to be paid for use 
of equipment and, more importantly, by working to 
bring distribution practices into line with producers' 
desires. The MPPC aimed to curb the excesses of distri- 
bution that had contributed to industrial instability, pri- 
marily the circulation of aging prints and the reliance on 
duped copies. Moreover, the MPPC exerted control over 
exchange schedules, introducing regularly timed releases. 
Exchanges had to be licensed by the MPPC, ensuring 
that distributors would abide by schedules dictated by 

producers. (The MPPC extended its control over the 
distribution sector by taking over the licensed exchanges 
altogether with the formation of the General Film 
Company in 1910, bringing it one step closer to becom- 
ing an oligopoly.) 

Though clearly working for its own monetary gain, 
the MPPC did effect substantial and positive changes in 
the American production landscape. Productivity soared 
from 1909 onward, in part because the MPPC limited 
the number of imports allowed into the domestic market, 
but also because its distribution reforms provided security 
to producers, who could now depend upon predictable 
delivery schedules. Even so, the MPPC-related firms 
failed to address all exhibitor needs. In part, these needs 
arose because certain exhibitors chafed against the royal- 
ties imposed upon them; further dissension appeared in 
the form of exchanges left out of the MPPC fold at the 
time of the General Film Company's formation. These 
disenfranchised elements within the distribution and 
exhibition sector constituted a sufficient percentage of 
the market to support the emergence of a competing 
faction of producers, known as the Independents, the 
first of which appeared in 1909. Their ranks grew over 
the next few years, leading to a clogged production field 
of more than twenty manufacturers by 1911, whose 
production levels were far in excess of pre-MPPC rates. 
The combined force of MPPC and Independent pro- 
ducers led to the release of over 5,000 films in 1913, 
the vast majority of them still single reelers. 


One of the most important changes to occur at the same 
time that the MPPC was formed was the adoption of the 
single reel (a 1,000-foot length) as the industry standard. 
This move to a standardized format had repercussions 
not only for industry practice but also for the formal 
properties defining story films during the next five years. 
Reliance on a single, interchangeable film length rendered 
print delivery and rental charges to distributors much 
more straightforward. Exhibition programs became more 
predictable, as audiences came to expect films to last a 
prescribed amount of time. In many ways, the move to a 
single-reel standard helped push films toward the status of 
a mass consumer good, insofar as they became a commod- 
ity whose value was now regularized. 

The changes wrought by the adoption of the single- 
reel format also registered themselves at the level of 
production methods and formal features. Now that pro- 
ducers knew exactly how long a film narrative should 
run, they could fashion stories designed to fit within the 
specified 1,000 feet. Film narratives began to assume a 
structural sameness from 1908 onward, hastened in part 



Early Cinema 

b. Paris, France, 8 December 1861, d. 21 January 1938 

Famed for his elaborately staged fantasy films and 
whimsical trick films, Georges Melies has often been 
described as the antithesis of the Lumiere brothers, his 
fictional flights of fancy viewed as the inverse of their slice- 
of-life actualites. Nonetheless, one can overstate Melies's 
contribution to the development of film narrative: for 
example, his famed "substitution splice" operates 
according to the logic of trickery rather than continuity 
and demonstrates how his early career as a magician clearly 
influenced his subsequent filmmaking practice. 

First and foremost, Melies's films are the work of a 
showman, the tricks proudly displayed while the wizardry 
is kept under wraps. Usually prized for their intricate mise- 
en-scene, his films are also feats of editing-as-illusion, a 
fact easily missed by those accustomed to associating cuts 
with spatial transitions. Instead, many of Melies's 
disguised cuts operate to facilitate a transformation; 
accordingly, all elements of the mise-en-scene must remain 
in the same place while a single object is removed or 
repositioned to enable the visual trick to work effectively. 
Through these substitution splices, Melies engaged in a 
form of invisible editing, though not the type associated 
with later classical storytelling methods. 

Equally exacting was Melies's approach to mise- 
en-scene, and his films are a cornucopia of visual effects, 
whether they be the reflexive displays of projection and 
technological reproduction in films such as La Lanterne 
magique {The Magic Lantern, 1903) and Photographic 
electrique a distance (Long Distance Wireless Photography, 
1908) or the creation of fantasy worlds in longer works 
like Le Voyage dans la lune {A Trip to the Moon, 1 902) and 
Le Voyage a travers Timpossible {The Impossible Voyage, 
1904). It is these multi-shot story films that have 
contributed to Melies's reputation as an early master of 
film narrative, but in truth, they are a collection of 
intricate and distinct tableaux. Melies's primary interest 
was the visual capacity of the individual shot, and he 
excelled at devising ever more elaborate sets, populated by 

sprites who disappear in a puff of smoke, mermaids 
surrounded by varieties of exotic sea life, and improbably 
conceived traveling machines capable of propelling their 
inhabitants beyond the earth's surface. 

Exercising total control over all aspects of the 
filmmaking process, Melies created perfectly self- 
contained worlds, most of them shot within the confines 
of his glass-walled studio in Montreuil. Yet his artisanal 
approach to filmmaking would prove his financial 
undoing as he was dwarfed by the industrially advanced 
Pathe Freres in his home country and cheated by 
American competitors who duped his most popular films 
without asking permission (or providing compensation). 
Though still making films as late as 1913, Melies found 
himself outpaced by an industry increasingly dependent 
on production methods foreign to his preferred approach 
and gravitating toward subject matter rooted in a more 
prosaic realism. 


Cendrillon {Cinderella, 1899), Barbe-bleue {Bluebeard, 
1901), L'Homme a la tete de caoutchouc {The Man with the 
India-Rubber Head, 1902), le Voyage dans la lune {A Trip 
to the Moon, 1902), La Royaume des fees {Kingdom of the 
Fairies, 1903), La Lanterne magique {The Magic Lantern, 
1903), La Sirene {The Mermaid, 1904), Le Voyage a travers 
impossible {The Impossible Voyage, 1904), La Photographic 
electrique a distance {Long Distance Wireless Photography, 
1908), A la Conquete du Pole {The Conquest of the Pole, 


Ezra, Elizabeth. Georges Melies. Manchester, UK: Manchester 

University Press, 2000. 
Gaudreault, Andre. "Theatricality, Narrativity, and 

'Trickality': Reevaluating the Cinema of Georges Melies." 

Journal of Popular Film and Television 15, no. 3 (1987): 


Hammond, Paul. Marvelous Melies. New York: St. Martin's, 

Charlie Keil 



Early Cinema 

Georges Melies. EVERETT collection, reproduced by 


by the adoption of the scenario script. These scripts 
served as skeletons for finished films and provided pro- 
ducers with blueprints for production schedules. The 
increased rationalization of production practices followed 
directly from the introduction of scenario scripts, allow- 
ing producers to organize sets, locations, and personnel 
according to shooting demands. Departmental organiza- 
tion of personnel provided further streamlining of the 
production process, resulting in writing departments, 
which further refined the crafting of scenario scripts. 

The emerging trade press in the United States also 
contributed to the standardization of the script writing 
process from 1907 onward. Existing publications such as 
New York Daily Mirror and Variety began to devote space 
to the film industry, and new journals aimed specifically 
at exhibitors also appeared, most notably Moving Picture 
World and Nickelodeon. Along with advice to exhibitors 
on how to enhance the moviegoing experience, film 
reviews and columns oudined the ideal ways to structure 
film scenarios. The trade press coached aspiring writers in 
the nascent craft of screenwriting while pointing out the 
cliches and overused devices that would mark their scripts 

as derivative. Though one cannot be certain how seri- 
ously such advice was taken by those responsible for the 
scripts, these primers on crafting film narratives nonethe- 
less indicate which principles of narrative construction 
were prized at this time. 

With films now longer, the stories that filmmakers 
could tell inevitably grew in complexity as well. While an 
involving narrative might well produce a satisfied viewer, 
a muddled set of events would only result in frustration 
and bafflement. Filmmakers had to ensure that as narra- 
tives increased in intricacy, they did not tax viewers' 
powers of comprehension. As Charles Musser has 
argued, this resulted in a crisis of representation for 
the industry around 1907, as filmmakers struggled to 
find ways to guarantee that audiences would understand 
the stories presented. Various extratextual aides to com- 
prehension were tested, including the reintroduction of 
the lecturer and the employment of actors behind the 
screen to utter dialogue explaining silent scenes. But 
solutions unique to a single exhibition situation did 
not address the problem in a systematic way; instead, 
audience comprehension had to be ensured by internally 
generated means, and these needed to function the 
same way for every spectator, regardless of viewing 

This led to a period of protracted experimentation 
during which filmmakers devised a series of text-based 
strategies to provide narratives that would ideally "tell 
themselves": aspects of the medium were enlisted to 
ensure comprehension of plot points, provide the look 
of a believable fictional world, and promote a sense of 
viewer engagement. The methods filmmakers developed 
emerged over time and through trial and error. What 
they came up with was one of the most striking trans- 
formations in film style ever undergone within such a 
short timeframe. In effect, this involved a wholesale 
change to the narrative approach already entrenched in 
early cinema. What Kristin Thompson has identified as a 
"neutral and unobtrusive" manner of providing informa- 
tion in the earliest years shifted gradually to a more 
directive guiding of the viewer's attention. 

Numerous scholars have coined the term "transi- 
tional era" to identify the years following 1907 and 
extending to the introduction of features. What distin- 
guishes this period on a formal level is the ongoing 
experimentation in storytelling methods and the shifting 
functions of various stylistic devices, as those devices 
were enlisted in the service of a developing narrative 
system. Comparisons to the earlier, pre- 1907 mode can 
help make the distinctions clearer: during the cinema 
of attractions period, one finds a bias favoring the 
autonomy of the shot: shots operate as individual units 
rather than as pieces fitting together to make a whole. 



Early Cinema 

Even when editing stitches together numerous shots, it is 
more hke beads on a string rather than integrally inter- 
related component pieces. This emphasis on discrete 
shots translates into filmmakers exhausting the narrative 
potential of a single space before replacing it with 
another. Even in chase films, defined by the principle 
of advancing action, all the characters must exit the frame 
before a shot is deemed complete. 

In many films made prior to 1907, style existed as a 
system only loosely connected to narrative concerns; what 
the next five or so years witnessed was the gradual but 
increased bending of style to narrative prerogatives. 
Conveying temporal continuity offers one striking exam- 
ple of this narrational shift: whereas in the earlier period, 
depictions of events occurring at the same time had 
occasioned instances of temporal overlap (even in films 
that employed sustained versions of linear editing, such 
as The Great Train Robbery and Rescued by Rover), now 
actions would be interrupted — literally cut into by 
edits — to produce the sensation of simultaneity for the 

Nowhere is this more evident than in D. W. 
Griffith's celebrated last-minute rescues, perfected during 
his tenure at Biograph (which more or less coincides with 
the period under examination here, 1908-1913). In 
numerous films during the transitional period, crosscut- 
ting clarified spatial relationships between two physically 
separated locales while incorporating temporal pressure 
into the representation of space. Such an approach gen- 
erates suspense, because of its constant reliance on delay 
in showing the outcome of one line of action while 
switching to another. Suspense works to involve the 
viewer in the narrative, in much the same way other 
stylistic strategies developed during this period pull the 
viewer into the narrative world on view: changing 
approaches to set decoration and arrangement of actors 
enhance the depth and volume of the spaces depicted; 
performance style moves toward greater restraint, with 
fewer grand gestures and a more internalized approach to 
expressing emotion; shifts in performance style are rein- 
forced by moving the camera closer to the actors, making 
their faces more legible. Many of these changes make the 
fictional world on display both more believable and more 
engaging, placing the characters and their motivations at 
the center of the drama. For this reason, flashbacks, 
dreams, visions, and cut-ins to inserts (especially those 
revealing extracts from letters) become much more prev- 
alent during this period, helping to convey characters' 
internal states. Overall, the individual elements of style 
become subordinated to a narrational program that fos- 
ters interdependency and integration, as when editing 
allows for shifts in shot scale, which in turn helps to 
register changes in performance style. 


The significant changes occurring to film form during 
this period operated in concert with other forces of trans- 
formation so that by 1915, numerous developments 
pointed toward the institutionalization of cinema. By 
1915, the MPPC had been dissolved by court order. 
The move toward increased consolidation inaugurated 
by the struggle between the Independents and the 
MPPC (the latter dissolved by court order in 1915) 
continued apace: corporate entities that would become 
pivotal in the studio era, such as Universal and 
Paramount, were founded during this period. The move 
of the American film industry to Hollywood was already 
underway, as was the establishment of a star system, with 
figures such as Mary Pickford (1892-1979) and Charlie 
Chaplin (1889—1977) acquiring the substantial fame and 
the power that came with it. Feature-length films had 
begun to dislodge the primacy of the single reeler, while 
large-scale picture palaces usurped the role of nickelo- 
deons within the exhibition landscape. Movies had 
moved noticeably closer to the status of mass entertain- 
ment, and the increased social responsibility that attends 
such a shift produced a new phase in the medium's 
development, a clear departure from the hallmarks of 
the period that we label retrospectively the era of early 

SEE ALSO Film History; Narrative; Pre-Cinema; Silent 


Abel, Richard. The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896- 
1914. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. 

, ed. Silent Film. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University 

Press, 1996. 

Bordwell, David, Janet Siaigcr, and Kristin Thompson. The 
Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of 
Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 

Bowser, Eileen. The Transformation of Cinema, 1907—1915. New 
York: Sctibner, 1990. 

Burch, Noel. Life to Those Shadows. Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1990. 

Elsaesser, Thomas, ed. Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative. 
London: British Film Institute, 1990. 

Fell, John L., ed. Film Before Griffith. Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1983. 

Gaudreault, Andre. "Temporality and Narrativity in Early 
Cinema." In Film Before Griffith, edited by John L. Fell. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983: 311-329. 

Grieveson, Lee, and Peter Kramer. The Silent Cinema Reader. 
New York: Routkdge, 2004. 

Gunning, Tom. D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American 
Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph. Urbana: 
University of Illinois Press, 1991. 



Early Cinema 

Keil, Charlie. Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style, 
and Filmmaking, 1907-1913. Madison: University of 
Wisconsin Press, 2001. 

Keil, Charlie, and Shelley Stamp, eds. American Cinema's 
Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, Practices. Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 2004. 

Musser, Charles. The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen 
to 1907. New York: Scribner, 1990. 

Popple, Simon, and Joe Kember. Early Cinema: From 

Factory Gate to Dream Factory. London: Wallflower Press, 


Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. 
2nd ed. London: Starword, 1992. 

Charlie Keil 




Editing is a postproduction phase of fdmmaking that 
begins following the completion of principal cinema- 
tography. An editor (and his or her team of assistant 
editors) works in close collaboration with the fdm's 
director and producer. This means that, as with all areas 
of filmmaking, editing is a collaborative enterprise, even 
though, in practice, the film editor is typically respon- 
sible for the overall ordering and design of the shots in 

Many editing decisions, however, may originate 
from the film's director or producer. The famous and 
unconventional series of dissolves in Taxi Driver (1976) 
that join shots of Robert DeNiro walking down the same 
street originated from director Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) 
rather than editor Tom Rolf (b. 1931). The editing 
design that opens The Wild Bunch (1969), first establish- 
ing the band of outlaws riding into town and then 
cutting to close-ups of a pair of scorpions struggling in 
a nest of fire ants, was the idea of producer Phil Feldman 
(1922-1991). Anne V. Coates (b. 1925) was hired to 
edit Lawrence of Arabia (1962) after first cutting a trial 
sequence, prompting director David Lean (1908-1991) 
to proclaim that for the first time in his career he'd found 
an editor who cut a sequence exactly the way he would 
have. Many directors, in fact, are known for having 
excellent editing skills, including Akira Kurosawa 
(1910—1998) {Shichinin no samurai [Seven Samurai, 
1954]), Nicolas Roeg (b. 1928) {Don't Look Now 
[1973]), Frederick Wiseman (b. 1930) {Hospital [1970]), 
and Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) {The Wild Bunch). Even 
many of these directors, though, employ first-rate editors 
on their productions. 


What is true about editing, therefore, is common to all 
phases of film production — the creative decisions 
involved typically have numerous authors. What, then, 
as a key collaborator on the production, does the editor 
do? The film editor reviews all of the footage shot on a 
production, selects the best takes of individual shots, and 
then orders these to produce an edited sequence that will 
convey the narrative action and emotion of the film's 
scenes. To accomplish this, editors must continually view 
and re-view the footage, trying different combinations of 
shots and gradually shaping the correct ones. Doing so 
moves their edit from a rough cut to a fine cut of the 
material. To maximize their ability to see all of the 
creative possibilities for combining the shots, most edi- 
tors will not go on location while the film is being shot or 
watch the director at work. Seeing the actual layout of a 
set or other physical locale will tend to inhibit their 
perceptions about the ways that the shots may be joined, 
causing them to think in terms of the physical realities of 
place rather than the spatial realities they can create 
through editing. 

Indeed, in earlier decades throughout most of the 
medium's history, editors worked on celluloid, physically 
cutting and splicing film using large bulky machines that 
ran footage in a linear and sequential fashion, from the 
beginning of a take to its end. The Moviola was an 
upright editor with a single screen that was used through- 
out much of Hollywood's history. Of European deriva- 
tion, the Steenbeck, or KEM, was a horizontal, flatbed 
machine equipped with two screens and two soundtracks. 
It, too, was a linear editor because the footage could 
advance only in a sequential fashion, from head to tail 




Complex editing appears in Don't Look Now (1973) by director-editor Nicolas Roeg. EVERETT COLLECTION. REPRODUCED BY 

of a clip or vice versa. Since the 1990s editors have been 
working on digital, nonlinear machines, such as Avid or 
Lightworks. These machines do not work on celluloid 
film; they provide computerized access to footage on 
digital video and enable an editor to go instantly to any 
point in this footage without having to scroll manually 
through every frame, the way a Moviola or Steenbeck 
requires. Rather than physically cutting and splicing film, 
the editor using a nonlinear system works at a keyboard, 
manipulating via computer the footage that has been 
digitized as video. Once the fine cut is finished, the camera 
negative is conformed to the final cut. Nonlinear editing 
has become the industry norm today, and it has had some 
important consequences for the stylistics of editing in 
contemporary film. 

The foregoing description of editing makes it seem 
to be a very straightforward and relatively simple process. 
It is not. Many editors have a background in music or 
have musical affinities, and they speak of feeling where 
the cut needs to go, of responding kinesthetically to the 
emerging rhythms of the sequence. Edit points, therefore, 
often owe more to an editor's intuitive response to the 
emerging flow of the sequence than to coolly intellectual 

decisions. Indeed, there is no single right way to cut a 
sequence. There are many possible cuts, all of which will 
inflect the material in different ways. As this suggests, 
while editing plays a variety of narrative functions, pre- 
senting basic story information that advances the story, it 
also helps set the emotional tone and coloration of a 
sequence, the rhythm and pace of scenes; helps create 
performances by the actors; and solves the innumerable 
continuity problems that arise when trying to connect the 
footage shot during production. 

These are very powerful interventions into the mate- 
rial of the film, and they suggest why so many directors 
have found editing to be a supremely decisive phase of 
filmmaking. It is commonly said that a director makes 
his or her film three times — first, as the screenplay is 
written; second, as the screenplay is altered at the point of 
filming; and third, as the material that has been directed 
and photographed is changed again in the editing proc- 
ess. For this reason, directors frequently partner with a 
favorite editor across many film productions, finding that 
this collaboration is a key means of achieving the results 
they want. Martin Scorsese regularly teamed with editor 
Thelma Schoonmaker (b. 1940) {Raging Bull [1980], 




GoodFellas [1990], Gangs of New York [2002]). Susan E. 
Morse has edited most of the films that Woody Allen 
(b. 1935) has directed {Manhattan [1979], Crimes and 
Misdemeanors [1989], Celebrity [1998]). Clint Eastwood 
(b. 1930) likes to work with Joel Cox {Every Which Way 
But Loose [1978], Unforgiven [1992], Mystic River 
[2003]). Blake Edwards (b. 1922) used Ralph E. 
Winters (1909-2004) {The Pink Panther [1964], 10 
[1979], Victor/Victoria [1982]). 


Although the earliest films in cinema were done in one 
shot without any editing, cutting is so fiindamental to the 
medium that it began to emerge relatively quickly. There 
was a basic disparity between the amount of film that a 
camera's magazine could hold and the evolving desire of 
filmmakers and audiences for longer and more elaborate 
story films. Only by editing shots together could longer 
narrative forms be achieved. A Trip to the Moon (1914), 
directed by Georges Melies (1861—1938), for example, 
creates a narrative by assembling a series of scenes, with 
each scene filmed in a single shot. The edit points occur 
between the scenes, in order to link them together. 

Life of an American Fireman (1903), directed by 
Edwin S. Porter (1870—1941), presents the same narra- 
tive events — a fireman rescuing a woman from a burning 
building — as seen first from inside the building and then 
from camera setups outside the building, repeating the 
same narrative action. From the standpoint of continuity 
as it would develop in cinema, this duplication of event 
was a deviant use of editing, although other early films 
feature this kind of overlapping action. It demonstrated, 
however, the manner in which cutting could impose its 
own laws of time and space on narrative. 

Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903) follows a 
band of Western outlaws robbing a train and interrupts 
the chronology of the action with a cutaway showing the 
rescue of a telegraph operator whom the oudaws earlier 
had tied up. Following the cutaway. Porter introduces a 
second line of action, showing the roundup of a posse 
and the pursuit of the outlaws. Film historians com- 
monly cite this as an early example of parallel editing, 
showing two lines of narrative action happening at the 
same time, although Porter's use of this device here is 
ambiguous. It is not clear that he means for the parallel 
editing to establish that the two lines of action are in fact 
happening simultaneously. In other respects, editing in 
The Great Train Robbery remains very primitive, with 
cuts used only to join scenes and with no intercutting 
inside a scene. 

In contrast with Porter, D. W. Griffith (1875-1948) 
freed the camera from the conventions of stage perspec- 
tive by breaking the action of scenes into many different 

shots and editing these according to the emotional and 
narrative rhythms of the action. Griffith explored the 
capabilities of editing in the films he made at Biograph 
studio from 1908 to 1913, primarily the use of continu- 
ity matches to link shots smoothly and according to their 
dramatic and kinesthetic properties. Cutting from full- 
figure shots to a close-up accentuated the drama, and 
matching the action on a cut as a character walks from an 
exterior into a doorway and, in the next shot, enters an 
interior set enabled Griffith to join filming locations that 
were physically separated but adjacent in terms of the 
time and place of the story. 

Griffith became famous for his use of crosscutting in 
the many "rides to the rescue" that climax his films. In 
The Girl and Her Trust (1912), for example, Griffith cuts 
back and forth from a pair of robbers, who have abducted 
the heroine and are escaping on a railroad pump car, to 
the hero, who is attempting to overtake them by train. By 
intercutting these lines of action, Griffith creates sus- 
pense, and by shortening the lengths of the shots, he 
accelerates the pace. Crosscutting furnished a foundation 
for narrative in cinema, and there is litde structural 
difference between what Griffith did here and what a 
later filmmaker such as Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) does 
in Jaws (1975). Griffith extended his fluid use of con- 
tinuity editing and crosscutting in his epics The Birth of a 
Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). The latter film is a 
supreme example of crosscutting, which is here used to 
tell four stories set in different time periods in simulta- 
neous fashion. 

The Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898— 
1948) wrote that Griffith's crosscutting embodied the 
essential class disparity of a capitalist society. He meant 
that the lines of action in Griffith's editing remained 
separated, like the classes under capitalism. Inspired by 
the October Revolution, Eisenstein and other Soviet 
filmmakers developed in the 1910s and 1920s a more 
radical approach to editing than Griffith had counte- 
nanced. Griffith had championed facial expression and 
used close-ups to showcase it, but Lev Kuleshov (1899— 
1970), teaching at the Moscow Film School, proclaimed 
that editing itself could essentially create facial expression 
and the impression of an acting performance. The 
"Kuleshov effect" has become part of the basic folklore 
of cinema. Kuleshov allegedly took a strip of film show- 
ing an actor's emotionless face and intercut it with shots 
of other objects — a bowl of soup, a woman grieving at a 
gravestone, a child playing with a toy — and the edited 
sequence (according to Kuleshov) led audiences to 
remark on the skill of the actor, who looked hungry 
when he saw the soup, sad at the sight of the woman, 
and happy when he saw the child. Because the face 
remained unchanged, Kuleshov announced that his 




b. Riga, Russian Empire (now Latvia), 23 January 1898, d. 11 February 1948 

Sergei Eisenstein is a wholly unique figure in cinema 
history. He was a filmmaker and a theoretician of cinema 
who made films and wrote voluminously about their 
structure and the nature of cinema. Both his filmmaking 
and his writing (which fills several volumes) have been 
tremendously influential. 

Frustrated by the creative limitations of his work in 
the theater, Eisenstein turned to cinema and in 1925 
completed his first feature, Stachka (Strike), which 
depicted the plight of oppressed workers. Eisenstein's next 
two films are the ones by which he remains best known, 
Bronenosets Potyomkin {Battleship Potemkin, 1925) and 
Oktyabr ( Ten Days That Shook the World and October, 
1927), each depicting political rebellion against czarist 

Eisenstein believed that editing was the foundation of 
film art. For Eisenstein, meaning in cinema lay not in the 
individual shot but only in the relationships among shots 
established by editing. Translating a Marxist political 
perspective into the language of cinema, Eisenstein 
referred to his editing as "dialectical montage" because it 
aimed to expose the essential contradictions of existence 
and the political order. Because conflict was essential to 
the political praxis of Marxism, the idea of conflict 
furnished the logic of Eisenstein's shot changes, which 
gives his silent films a rough, jagged quality. His shots do 
not combine smoothly, as in the continuity editing of 
D. W. Griffith and Hollywood cinema, but clash and 
bang together. Thus, his montages were eminently suited 
to depictions of violence, as in Strike, Potemkin, and Ten 
Days. In his essays Eisenstein enumerated the numerous 
types of conflict that he found essential to cinema. These 
included conflicts among graphic elements in a 
composition and between shots, and conflict of time and 
space created in the editing process and by filming with 
different camera speeds. 

As a political filmmaker, Eisenstein was interested in 
guiding the viewer's emotions and thought processes. 
Thus, his metric and rhythmic montages were 

supplemented with what he called "tonal" and 
"intellectual" montage, in which he aimed for subtle 
emotional effects and to convey more abstract ideas. Ten 
Days represents Eisenstein's most extensive explorations of 
intellectual montage, as he creates a series of visual 
metaphors to characterize the political figures involved in 
the October Revolution, such as shots that compare 
Alexander Kerensky with a peacock. 

Stalin's consolidation of power in the 1930s 
accompanied cultural and artistic repression, which forced 
Eisenstein, now criticized as a formalist, to recant the 
radical montage style of his silent films. Thus his last films, 
Aleksandr Nevskiy {Alexander Nevsky, 1938) and Ivan 
Groznyy I and // {Ivan the Terrible Part One [1944] and 
Two [1958]) lack the aggressive, visionary editing of his 
work in the silent period. Although he completed only 
seven features, these contain some of the most famous 
sequences ever committed to film, such as the massacre on 
the Odessa steps in Potemkin. Together, Eisenstein's films 
and essays represent the supreme expression of the 
capabilities and power of montage in the cinema. 


Stachka {Strike, 1925), Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship 
Potemkin, 1925), Oktyabr (Ten Days That Shook the World 
and October, 1927), Ivan Groznyy I (Ivan the Terrible Part 
One, 1944), Ivan Groznyy II (Ivan the Terrible Part Two, 


Bordwell, David. The Cinema of Eisenstein. Cambridge, MA: 

Harvard University Press, 1993. 
Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form. Translated by Jay Leyda. New 

York: Harvest, 1969. 
. The Film Sense. Translated by Jay Leyda. New York: 

Hai-vest, 1969. 

Leyda, Jay, ed. Film Essays and a lecture. New York and 
Washington: Praeger, 1970. 

Taylor, Richard. October. London: British Film Institute, 

Stephen Prince 





experiment proved that editing had created the meanings 
viewers attributed to the sequence. 

While it is extremely doubtful that Kuleshov's 
experiment worked exactly as he claimed (for one thing, 
it is likely that the actor's face actually contained an 
ambiguous expression since Kuleshov had taken the foot- 
age from an existing film), the Soviet filmmakers of the 
1920s followed Kuleshov's lead in fashioning a much 
more aggressive method of editing than what they had 
found in the films of Griffith. Eisenstein believed that 
editing or montage was the essence of cinema, and begin- 
ning with his first film, Stachka {Strike, 1925), and con- 
tinuing most famously with Bronenosets Potyomkin 
{Battleship Potemkin, 1925), he created an editing style 
that he called "dialectical montage" that was abrupt and 
jagged and did not aim for the smooth continuity of 
Griffith-style cutting. The massacre of townspeople on 
the Odessa Steps in Potemkin exemplifies the principles 
of dialectical montage and is possibly the most famous 
montage in the history of cinema. The jaggedness of 
Eisenstein's editing in this sequence captures the emo- 
tional and physical violence of the massacre, but he also 
aimed to use editing to suggest ideas, a style he termed 
"intellectual montage." The massacre sequence concludes 
with three shots of statues of stone lions edited to look 

like a single lion rising up and roaring, embodying the 
idea of the wrath of the people and the voice of the 

Although Eisenstein's sound films, Aleksandr Nevskiy 
{Alexander Nevsky, 1938) and Ivan Groznyy I and // 
{Ivan the Terrible Part One [1944] and Tiuo [1958]), 
do not exhibit the radical editing of his silent films, 
Eisenstein's approach to montage — the extreme way he 
would fracture the action into tiny, brief shots — proved 
to be tremendously influential. The gun batdes in 
Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, edited by Lou Lombardo 
(1932-2002), was quite consciously based on Eisenstein, 
and the hyperactive editing of much contemporary film, 
with edit points only a few frames apart, is part of 
Eisenstein's legacy. 

The dominant style of editing practiced during the 
classical Hollywood period, from the 1930s to the 
1950s, was quite different from Soviet-style montage. 
It is sometimes called "invisible editing" because the 
edit points are so recessive and so determined by the 
imperative of seamless continuity. Hollywood-style 
editing carefully matches inserts and close-ups to the 
physical relations of characters and objects as seen in a 
scene's master shot, and follows the 180-degree rule 
(keeping camera setups on one side of the line of action) 
so that the right-left coordinates of screen geography 
remain consistent across shot changes. Cut points typi- 
cally follow the flow of dialogue, and shot-reverse shot 
editing uses the eyeline match to connect characters 
who are otherwise shown separately in close-ups. This 
style of editing assured the utmost clarity about the 
geography of the screen world and the communication 
of essential story information. For these reasons, it is 
sometimes called "point-of-view" editing or "continu- 
ity editing." That it became the standard editing style 
of the Hollywood system is evident in the fact that it 
can be found in films across genres, directors, and 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, films of the 
French New Wave introduced a more aggressive editing 
style than was typical of the Hollywood studios. A bout de 
souffle {Breathless, 1960), directed by Jean-Luc Godard 
(b. 1930), used jump cuts that left out parts of the action 
to produce discontinuities between shots, and American 
directors a decade later assimilated this approach in pic- 
tures such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider 
(1969). As a result, by the 1970s the highly regulated 
point-of-view editing used in classical Hollywood began 
to break down as an industry standard, and the cutting 
style of American films became more eclectic, exhibiting 
a mixture of classical continuity and more abrupt, col- 
lage-like editing styles. 




A forceful style of montage characterizes Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925). Everett collection. 



Along with the breakdown of classical continuity as the 
industry's sole standard cutting style, the other major 
stylistic development in recent films has been due to 
the switch from linear to nonlinear editing systems. 
This changeover has helped produce an increase in the 
cutting rate of contemporary fdm and a bias in favor of 
close-ups. Edit points occur more rapidly than in fdms of 
previous decades, with a much greater profusion of shot 
changes. Moulin Rouge (2001) exemplifies the hyperac- 
tive editing style found in many films today. 

Several features of nonlinear systems have motivated 
this shift. For one, they give editors much greater control 
over the available footage, with greatly increased abilities 
to access individual shots and manipulate them more 
easily in complex editing constructions. But there is a 
paradox. Editor Walter Murch (b. 1943) {Apocalypse 
Now [1979], The English Patient [1996]) points out that 
an editor working on a linear system may actually come 
to know the footage better as a result of having to search 
it sequentially looking for a particular piece of film. 

Editors on nonlinear systems are more dependent on 
their notes about the footage and may overlook valuable 
material because their notes have excluded it. 

In addition, the image as viewed on the editor's 
monitor tends to be of relatively low resolution because 
of the necessary trade-off between resolution and the 
computer storage space needed for the digitized video 
of the film footage. The higher the resolution, the greater 
the storage space that is needed. The low-res image will 
tend to bias editors toward close-ups rather than long 
shots and toward frequent shot changes as a means of 
maintaining visual interest. As a result, many contempo- 
rary films have come to look more and more like tele- 
vision, with quick editing and a tendency to play the 
story as a montage of close-ups. 

What this approach loses is not so much the aes- 
thetic tradition in cinema that developed in opposition to 
montage, such as the long shot-long take style celebrated 
by French critic Andre Bazin and found in such films as 
La Grande illusion {The Grand Illusion, Jean Renoir, 
1937), Csillagosok, katonak {The Red and the White, 




Miklos Jancso, 1967), Playtime Qacques Tati, 1967), and 
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). This style never had 
much presence in American cinema. Rather, what is 
vanishing from American film are all of the ways that 
an individual shot can function as a unit of meaning, 
through composition, production design, lighting, and 
the actor's performance as it unfolds in the real time of a 
shot that is held. An essential component of editing is 
knowing when not to edit, when to hold the shot. Films 
of earlier decades routinely exhibit this quality. Many 
contemporary films do not, and in this respect it can be 
said that their hyperactive editing style is cannibalizing 
other essential elements of cinema. When every shot is 
only a few frames long, the art of the cinematographer, of 
the production designer, and of the actor necessarily 
suffers. Sergei Eisenstein always maintained that the 
point of montage was to overcome the characteristics of 
the single shot taken in isolation. Ironically, his objective 
is being realized in the montage style that has emerged 
with the advent of nonlinear editing. 


Editors join shots using a variety of optical transitions. 
These serve narrative, dramatic, and emotionally expres- 
sive fiinctions. The most common transitions are the cut 
(which creates an instantaneous change from one shot to 
the next), the fade (during which one shot fades com- 
pletely to black before the next shot fades in from black), 
and the dissolve (which overlaps the outgoing and 
incoming shots). Cuts are the most frequent transitions, 
and typically indicate an uninterrupted flow of narrative 
information, with no breaks of time or space. Dissolves 
and fades, on the other hand, may be used to indicate 
transitions in time and space. 

Other optical transitions are available but are used 
infrequently, and some have become archaic in that they 
were more common in earlier periods of cinema. The iris 
was used throughout silent cinema, and the wipe in early 
sound film. George Lucas (b. 1944) regularly uses irises 
and wipes in his Star Wars films in order to evoke the 
visual qualities of early cinema (one source for the films 
being the old cliff-hanging serials that moviegoers saw in 
the first half of the twentieth century). Editors may also 
create split screen effects, putting several shots on screen 
at once by splitting the image into small windows. This 
technique enjoyed a brief vogue in the late 1960s and 
1970s {The Thomas Crown Affair [1968], Junior Bonner 
[1973], Twilight's Last Gleaming [1977]). It has been 
revived in recent years (Timecode [2000]) and can be 
found in the films of Brian De Palma (b. 1940). 

As noted, parallel editing and crosscutting are build- 
ing blocks of narrative, and they enable editors to control 
time and space. Indeed, this control of time and space is 

one of the key functions of editing. Editors may use 
continuity cutting to create a stable and reliable spatial 
geography onscreen, or they may break continuity to 
undermine spatial coherence, as in films such as Straw 
Dogs (1971) and Gladiator (2000). 

With respect to time (i.e., the duration of an event 
onscreen), editors may expand it by using devices such as 
slow motion, or by increasing the number of cutaways 
from a main line of action or increasing the number of 
shots that are used to cover the action. In either case, the 
screen time of the event stretches out. During the Odessa 
massacre scene in Potemkin a mother with a baby carriage 
is shot in the stomach, and Eisenstein prolongs the 
moment of her agony by covering the action with numer- 
ous shots and then editing among them. The result is 
that it takes her a very long time to collapse to the 
ground, and this duration is a function of editing rather 
than the actor's performance. Conversely, editors may 
shrink or contract time by leaving out portions of the 
action. Jump cuts are an obvious and aestheticized way of 
doing this. The more common method, however, is to 
employ a "cheat." In Vertigo (1958), James Stewart has 
to walk down a very long chapel corridor in order to 
reach the bell tower, where an important scene will occur. 
It would be tedious to show him walking the length of 
the corridor. A judicious cut telescopes the action in a 
way that is imperceptible to the viewer. 

Editors employ cheats all the time, and they rou- 
tinely do many other things that viewers never notice. 
They may flip shots to get a proper eyeline match or 
screen direction, make the action move backwards (when 
Jack Palance mounts his horse in Shane [1953], it's the 
dismount shot played in reverse), or solve problems in 
the continuity or blocking of a scene's action by using 
cutaways to move things around. 

Editors also help shape the actors' performances, and 
in doing so they help create the dramatic focus of a scene. 
An editor's decision to play a line of dialogue with the 
camera on the speaker will inflect the scene in one 
direction, whereas the decision to use a reaction shot of 
another character while the line is spoken will give the 
moment a different tone and emphasis. Film viewers are 
typically quite unaware of the extent to which editing 
intersects with film acting. Viewers may attribute to the 
actor much that results, in fact, from editing. If the editor 
elects to respect the performance, he or she may work 
with the master shot, allowing the performances to 
unfold in the relatively unbroken time of unedited shots. 
On the other hand, if the editor goes to coverage, build- 
ing a scene with cutaways, inserts, and switches in camera 
position, then the editing is subtly reworking the per- 
formance. Examples include trimming the ends of shots 
to tighten an actor's apparent psychological reflex or to 




b. 15 February 1932, d. 8 May 2002 

Lou Lombardo's seminal contribution to the history of 
editing is his work on The Wild Bunch (1969), directed 
by Sam Peckinpah. The complex montages of violence 
that Lombardo created for that film influenced 
generations of filmmakers and established the modern 
cinematic textbook for editing violent gun battles. 
Lombardo didn't originate the essentials of this design. 
Dede Allen's editing of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 
furnished an immediate inspiration, and Allen's work in 
turn was modeled on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai 
(1954) and Sergei Eisenstein's general approach to 
montage. But it was Lombardo, working under 
Peckinpah's guidance, who created the most elaborate 
and extended design and set the style for other 

Peckinpah shot the film's violent gun battles using 
multiple cameras, and Lombardo took this footage and 
wove it into complex collages of action, meshing multiple 
lines of action by intercutting them and mixing normal 
speed action with varying degrees of slow motion. The 
editing is audacious and visionary, as the montages bend 
space and elongate time in a manner whose scope and 
ferocity was unprecedented in American cinema. 
Working without benefit of today's nonlinear editing 
systems that facilitate the control of huge amounts of 
footage, Lombardo created a final cut that contained 
more edit points than any American film in history to 
that time. Making this achievement more impressive yet 
is the fact that The Wild Bunch was Lombardo's first 
substantive feature film. Prior to this he had worked on 
television (editing Felony Squad, where he tried 
integrating slow-motion and normal-speed footage) and 
had edited the feature The Name of the Game Is Kill 

Lombardo continued his partnership with Peckinpah 
on The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), where they 
experimented less successfully with edits combining 
normal speed and accelerated action. Peckinpah wanted to 
use Lombardo again on Straw Dogs (1971), but Lombardo 
was by then busy editing Robert Altman's McCabe and 
Mrs. Miller (1971), one of five Altman pictures that he cut 
(the others were Brewster McCloud [1970], The Long 
Goodbye [1973], Thieves Like Us [1974], and California 
Split, 1974). Though his work for Altman was less 
trendsetting than that for Peckinpah, the partnership with 
Altman lasted much longer, and Lombardo found the 
perfect visual rhythms for Altman's wandering and diffuse 
audio style. 

Lombardo was also a very effective editor of comedy 
{Uncle Buck [1989], Other People's Money [1991]), with 
Moonstruck (1987) being a particular standout. The superb 
comic timing of that film is due to Lombardo's editing as 
much as to the fine direction by Norman Jewison and the 
sparkling performances. 

Lombardo's career was cut short by a stroke in 1991, 
and he spent the last decade of his life in a coma. But he 
had left an indelible mark on modern cinema with The 
Wild Bunch. 


The Wild Bunch (1969), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), The 
Long Goodbye (1973), Moonstruck (1987) 


Lobrutto, Vincent, ed. Selected Takes: Film Fditors on Fditing. 
New York: Praeger, 1991. 

Weddle, David. If They Move . . . Kill Fm!: The Life and 
Times of Sam Peckinpah. New York: Grove Press, 1994. 

Stephen Prince 

make him or her seem to jump on another character's 
line, or dropping inserts into the action to draw out the 
length of an actor's pause. 

More extreme examples include using close-ups that 
have been lifted from other action but that seem to 
work best in the new context. In One Flew Over the 
Cuckoo's Nest 5), editor Sheldon Kahn (b. 1940) took 
some footage of actress Louise Fletcher (b. 1934) in con- 

versation with the film's director, IVIilos Forman 
(b. 1932), lifted a piece of her expression from this footage, 
and used it in a scene where her character looks archly at 
the film's hero (Jack Nicholson). It worked in the scene 
but, in reality, it was not a moment in which the actress 
was acting. The surrounding material of the scene, 
organized by the editing, effectively recontextualized her 
expression. George Lucas used editing to completely 




rework his actors' performances in the recent Star Wars 
film, Attack of the Clones (2002), to the point of cutting and 
pasting eye bUnks and Hp movements from one scene to the 

These considerations suggest that the term "invisible 
editing," as critics have selectively used it to describe the 
cutting style of classical Hollywood cinema, is a naive 
description. In fact, nearly all editing is invisible editing 
because the vast bulk of what the editor does, the myriad 
ways that editing transforms the raw footage of a shoot, 
remains subliminal and imperceptible to viewers. Some 
films call attention to their editing style by virtue of 
aggressive montage or jagged, discontinuous cut points 
{Easy Rider, Don 't Look Now, Moulin Rouge), and it is this 
kind of filmmaking that scholars and critics commonly 
posit as the alternative to the "invisible" style of classical 
Hollywood. But such a dichotomy of Hollywood and 
anti-Hollywood editing styles is too simplistic. It mini- 
mizes the numerous ways that editors on every produc- 
tion work "below the radar," creating effects, emphasis, 
and continuity in ways that do not advertise themselves 
as editing. 

Shooting on digital video now makes it possible to 
create a feature film in one shot, without any traditional 
editing (as in Russian Ark [2003]). Alfred Hitchcock 
(1899-1980) once tried to do without editing by making 

Rope (1948) as if there were no edits between shots. But 
these superlatively designed films are aberrations from 
cinema's essential nature, which is, and has always been, 
an edited construction transforming the realities of what 
has existed before the cameras. 

SEE ALSO Direction; Narrative; Production Process; 


Dmytryk, Edward. On Film Editing. Woburn, MA: Focal Press, 

Murch, Walter. In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film 
Editing. Los Angeles: Sliman-James Press, 1995. 

Oldham, Gabriella. First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. 

Ondaatje, Michael. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art 
of Editing Film. New York: ICnopf, 2002. 

Prince, Stephen, and Wayne Hensley. "The Kuleshov Effect: 
Recreating the Classic Experiment." Cinema Journal diX, no. 2 
(Winter 1992): 59-75. 

Reisz, Karel, and Gavin Millar. The Technique of Film Editing. 
Boston: Focal Press, 1983. 

Stephen Prince 




The history of Egyptian cinema is long and varied. From 
modest beginnings with the projection of Lumiere shorts 
in the Tousson Pasha hail of Alexandria and the 
Hammam Schneider baths of Cairo in 1896, film was 
transformed from an exclusively foreign import for the 
foreign elite into a national industry by the 1940s. This 
"Hollywood on the Nile," established in its initial phase 
in the mid- 1930s by nationalist financier Talaat Harb, 
was equipped with studios, a star system, the production 
of syncretic genres, and mastery of the three-tiered system 
of production, distribution, and exhibition. Its subse- 
quent domination over the cinema of other Arab and 
North African countries was uniquely binding at the 
cultural level, working in conjunction with the radio 
(established in 1926) and music recording industries. 
Together these media familiarized the inhabitants of 
other countries with the Egyptian dialect and culture; 
drew upon the preexisting cultural diversity of Egypt 
to further the aims and sense of pan-Arabism and Arab 
nationalism, from the cosmopolitanism of Alexandria to 
the work of Lebanese and Syrian artists in Cairo's theater 
and recording industries; entertained the masses through 
generic forms copied from Hollywood but customized to 
fit the cultural context and issues specific to Egyptian 
culture; and proved that while the technology of cinema 
was a Western invention, it could be used to serve the 
needs and contexts of the non- Western world — in this 
case, cultures that were predominantly Islamic in religion 
but tolerant and culturally diverse. 


The evolution of Egyptian film history reflects the eco- 
nomic and political changes that have swept the country 

since the beginnings of a national film industry. These 
changes have been distinguished by widely divergent 
economic directions and opaque ideological systems that 
became more pronounced following the 1952 Free 
Officer's Coup — a revolution led by a group of young 
military officers. This group effectively unseated from 
power the former British mandate puppet. King 
Farouk, descendent of the Ottoman Turkish dynasty, in 
a bloodless coup that served as a model revolution to 
other Arab countries seeking independence from colonial 
European rule. The subsequent rise of Gamal Abdel 
Nasser (1918-1970) to power in 1954 extended to his 
leadership of the Pan-Arab movement, which forged ties 
between Egypt, Syria, and Iraq after Egypt's successful 
resolution of the 1956 Suez crisis, when French and 
British air forces were overpowered by the Egyptians after 
Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal. 

Nasser's social reforms included nationalizing the 
cinema in the 1960s, and this had a great and negative 
impact on the film industry. Soon after the establishment 
of the General Organization of Egyptian Cinema in 1961 
and the nationalization of the theatres in 1963, directors, 
producers, and talent fled to Lebanon, where they 
worked in the Lebanese film industry until the outbreak 
of civil war in 1975. In spite of these problems, Egypt's 
nationalized cinema organization made most of the films 
of the 1960s. One positive contribution from this period 
was the opening of the Higher Institute of Cinema in 
1959, by the Ministry of Culture, where students 
received training in different aspects of production. 
Since then, this institute has produced much of Egypt's 
film and television talent. After Egypt's demoralizing 
1967 defeat in the Six-Day War with Israel, Nasser's 




death in 1970, and the rise of Anwar Sadat (1918-1981), 
who promoted normalization of economic ties with Israel 
and the United States, the country underwent a general 
shift back to privatization. Nationalization was over by 
1972, but relations with neighboring Arab countries were 
strained by Egypt's open-door policy with Israel, and the 
country's economic and political ties with Syria were 

As soon as Nasser nationalized the radio and tele- 
vision industries in the early 1960s, attendance at movie 
theatres dropped drastically. In the period from 1955 to 
1975, the number of film theatres declined from 350 to 
fewer than 250. Meanwhile, imported foreign films con- 
tinued to flood the Egyptian market. Tickets to films 
were heavily taxed, and the state film organization lost 
about 7 million Egyptian pounds, slowly bringing state 
film production to a halt by the early 1970s. The pen- 
dulum effect in funding between private and public 
sectors was also damaged by the increasingly predomi- 
nant investment from the oil-rich Gulf countries, which 
financed films for television in the 1980s and later for 
satellite distribution in the 1990s. In addition to their 
more stringent censorship requirements of the usual sub- 
jects (sex, politics, and religion), the Gulf producers 
generally lacked awareness of the aesthetics of cinema. 
After the 1981 assassination of Sadat by a member of the 
Islamic Brotherhood, Hosni Mubarek's (b. 1928) regime 
was installed and with it emergency law, eventually dif- 
fusing the student movement that had erupted in the 
1970s in reaction to Sadat's economic and political 

The Gulf petrodollars of the 1980s caused an out- 
pouring of fiinded television shows, which led to further 
decline in the film industry. By 1994, Egyptian cinema 
was considered to be in a state of crisis: the annual 
production of films had fallen to single digits, a far cry 
from the annual output of fifty narrative features in 
1944. More recently, independent directors have concen- 
trated their efforts on serial television shows for 
Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast during 
the day, then relax in the evening, creating large popular 
audiences. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of post-war 
Beirut was fueling the media explosion of the second half 
of the 1990s, which led to such satellite channels as 
Rotana and Good Day from Beirut and the Gulf states, 
which now produce many films for the Egyptian market. 

Another challenge to independent Egyptian film is 

the power of censors to stifle artistic work and freedom of 
expression at the slightest hint of perceived criticism of 
religion or of taboo subjects presented in anything other 
than a denunciatory way. Between 1971 and 1973, dur- 
ing Sadat's early years, any films that dealt with the 1967 
defeat were banned, including // Usfur {The Sparrow, 

Youssef Chahine, 1973), but since the early 1990s, cen- 
sorship has been more acutely attentive to religious issues. 


In the early years of the twentieth century, only foreign 
studios (German, Italian, and French) operated in Egypt, 
most of them in Alexandria because of its optimal light- 
ing conditions. It was not until the 1920s that Egyptians 
made their own films. The first long feature to be 
financed by Egyptian money was Leila (1927), produced 
by a woman, Aziza Amir (1901-1952), who also acted in 
the film, and directed by Estephan Rosti (1891-1964; 
not a native Egyptian). Mohamad Bayoumi (1894—1963) 
and Mohamad Karim (first Egyptian film actor), who 
studied filmmaking in Germany, were early pioneers. 
Bayoumi was the first Egyptian to produce and shoot 
a newsreel, Amun, about the return of nationalist Saad 
Zaghloid Pasha from exile in 1923, and the first Egyptian 
to shoot and direct a short fiction film, al-Bashkateb 
{The Head Clerk [1924]). Mohamad Karim, who claimed 
to have learned filmmaking at "the university of 
Metropolis," where he spent a year assisting and observing 
in the production of Fritz Lang's 1927 expressionist classic 
on the sets of Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft), 
directed his first film, Zaynah, based on the novel by 
Mohamad Husayn Haykal, in 1930. In 1932, he directed 
the first Egyptian talking film Awlad al-dhawat {The 
Children of the Aristocrats), starring theater aaors Yussef 
Wahbi and Amina Rizq; in 1933, he directed his first 
musical, al-Warda al-bayda' {The White Rose), which show- 
cased the talents of musician and composer Mohamad 
Abdel Wahab (1901-1991). This was also the first film 
to solve the problem of compressing long classical Arabic 
songs (usually 15 to 20 minutes in duration) into six- 
minute sequences. From then on, Karim was known as 
Mohamad Abdel Wahab's director, and they made several 
other films together. 

Talaat Harb, the savvy businessman and nationalist 
financier, founded Bank Misr in the 1920s as well as 
Studio Misr in 1935, which produced its first talking 
feature in 1936, Widad, directed by Fritz Kramp after a 
dispute broke out between original Egyptian director 
Ahmed Badrakhan and the studio manager, Ahmed 
Salem. After this. Studio Misr dominated productions 
in the film industry for the next thirty years. To ensure 
technical and aesthetic quality, Talaat Harb sent young 
filmmakers abroad to acquire professional training and 
recruited European technicians as consultants in Cairo. 
With the preexisting industries of radio and music 
recording and with Cairo's position since the nineteenth 
century as a refuge for artists and musicians fleeing the 
more constraining conditions of Greater Syria, this 
unique confluence of talent and technology led to the 




b. Alexandria, Egypt, 25 January 1926 

Born in 1926 to a middle-class Catholic family of 
Lebanese and Greek origins, Youssef Chahine's formative 
years were spent in the cultural melting pot of Alexandria, 
living under British occupation. There he was exposed to a 
polyphonic culture of Eastern and Western flavors, 
surrounded by English, Italian, French, Greek, and Arabic 
languages, and living in a religiously tolerant environment 
where Muslim, Christian, and Jew coexisted. These 
elements, along with Egypt's changing politics since 1950, 
have strongly influenced his body of work. 

Adept at mixing genres and styles, Chahine has 
made films for over fifty years, during which time he has 
revealed a commitment to social and political critique. 
His early tendency toward social realism is hallmarked by 
Bab al Hadid (Cairo Station, 1958) and Al Ard [The 
Land, 1969). In the former, he played a disturbed and 
crippled newspaper vendor in the Cairo train station 
who murders a voluptuous drink vendor out of 
unrequited desire; in the latter, based on a novel by 
Marxist Abdel Rahman Sharkawi, he shows the bonds of 
kinship and rivalry that destroy the solidarity of the 
peasants under the new land reforms of the Nasser 
period. His historical epic, Nasr Salah el Din (Saladin, 
1963), depicts the twelfth-century uniter of the Arabs, 
Salah el Din, as a merciful and religiously tolerant leader 
who is an obvious allegory for Gamal Abdel Nasser, 
Egypt's leader from 1954 to 1971. In his 1973 film // 
Usfur (The Sparrow), he attempts to reconcile the ideals 
of Nasserism with the disappointing results of Egypt's 
1967 defeat in its war with Israel and the aftermath. His 
1997 Le Destin (Destiny) about the twelfth-century 
Andalusian philosopher Averroes (Ibn Sinna), is an 
allegory for the contemporary struggles in Arab countries 
between Islamic fundamentalism and political despots. 

on the one hand, and free thinkers, on the other, 
mirroring his own battles with censorship on religious 
grounds in his film Al Muhajir (The Immigrant, 1994), 
banned for representing a character who is somewhat 
similar to the Biblical and Quranic Joseph. His 
autobiographical films were the first in the Arab world to 
treat non-normative sexuality as something human, seen 
in his quartet Alexandria . . . Why? (1978), Egyptian Story 
(1982), Alexandria, Again and Forever (1989,) and 
Alexandria . . . New York (2004). 

Chahine has offered a new model for the Arab 
filmmaker as an independent auteur of a personal cinema. 
While his films attempt to cater to popular Egyptian tastes 
with their musical numbers and well-known film stars, the 
majority of Egyptians relate best to his realist films, 
finding the others too obscure. Those he has mentored 
include established film auteurs Yousry Nasrallah and Atef 
Hetata, who face similar problems of censorship and lack 
of local markets for their films. 


Bab al Hadid (Cairo Station, 1958), Nasr Salah el Din 

(Saladin, 1963), Al Ard (The Land, 1969), // Usfur (The 
Sparrow, 1973), Return of the Prodigal Son (1974), 
Alexandria . . . Why'i (1978), Egyptian Story (1982), Adieu 
Bonaparte (1984), Alexandria Again and Forever (1989), 
Cairo as Illuminated by Her People (1991), Al Muhajir 
(The Immigrant, 1994), le Destin (Destiny, 1997), 
Alexandria . . . New York (2004) 


Fawal, Ibrahim. Youssef Chahine. London: British Film 

Institute, 2001. 
StoUery, Martin. Al-Muhajir, L'emigre. Wiltshire, UK: Flicks 

Books, 2005. 

Samirah Alkassim 

hegemony of Egyptian cinema over the Arab and North 
African region. 

Once the talking feature had been established in 
1936, films were made in the genres of farce, melodrama, 
and the musical. These were collaborations by established 
musicians, star singers, and actors, including Yussef 
Wahbi (1897-1982, actor and theatre director), come- 

dian Naguib Al Rihani (1891-1949), and musicians 
Umm Kulthoum (1904-1975), Mohamed Abdel 
Wahab, Farid al Attrach (1915-1974), Layla Murad 
(1918-1995), and Mohamed Abdel Wahhab. The period 
from the early 1940s until the early 1950s is considered 
the golden age of Egyptian cinema, with annual output 
averaging forty-eight films a year between 1945 and 





1952. In the immediate post-World War II years, the 
film industry was more profitable than the textile indus- 
try, and by 1948, there were seven operating film stu- 
dios, and 345 feature films had been produced. But the 
dominance of Western cinema in the market impeded 
national film production, even during the post-independ- 
ence period after 1952, when Egyptian productions did 
not exceed 20 percent of all distributed films. 


Realism has been a tendency in Egyptian cinema since 
the 1939 classic, Determination (Kamal Selim, al-Azma), 
but this tendency became particularly strong in the 
1950s when serious realist writers like Naguib Mahfouz 
(b. 1911) and Abdel Rahman Sharkawi (1920-1987) 
involved themselves in the cinema, penning screenplays 
or lending their novels to filmic adaptations. Of all the 
directors, Salah Abu Self (1915-1996) is hailed as the 
father of Egyptian film realism, especially after his 1951 
film Lak yawm ya Zalim {Your Day Will Come), adapted 
from Zola's novel Therese Raquin by Naguib Mahfouz. 

Self's adaptation of the Mahfouz novel into al futuwa 
{The Tough Guy [1957]) is joined by Tawfik Saleh's 
(b. 1927) notable 1955 adaptation from Mahfouz's novel 
Darb al mahabil {Street of Fools). Abu Seif made twenty- 
four features between 1946 and 1966; between 1963 and 
1965, he was head of the General Organization of 
Egyptian Cinema. Many of his films are social melo- 
dramas about the city of Cairo, its neighborhoods and 
working-class inhabitants. Due to the problems related to 
the nationalized cinema, he had difficulties making films 
during the late 1960s and 1970s; his only film of the 
1980s was his feature Al-Qadisiya (1981), made in Iraq. 
Saleh, a younger director, also had difficulties and made 
only four films in Egypt, including Al Mutamarridun 
{The Rebels [1966]), before leaving for Syria, where he 
directed his best-known film, al Makhdu 'un {The Duped 
[1972]), based on the novel Men under the Sun by 
Palestinian writer Ghassan Khanafani. Saleh later moved 
to Iraq to become head of the film institute in Baghdad. 

Among Saleh's peers, each of whom suffered from the 
decline in state fitnding, Shadi Abdel Salam (d. 1986), 
originally a set and costume designer on numerous 
Egyptian films, heralded a new kind of art cinema with 
his sole feature, Al Mumiya {Night of the Counting Years 
[1969]). This film was hailed as a "renaissance" in 
Egyptian cinema, but Salam has since left Egypt because 
he was unable to secure funding for other projects; he 
died inl986. The demands of the market have domi- 
nated the type and level of artistry in Egyptian cinema, 
with few exceptions, one of whom is Youssef Chahine 
(b. 1926). The most prolific independent film director of 
the post-war period, a master of different genres, and the 
instigator of an auteurist and critical cinema in the Arab 
world, Chahine is probably the best known Egyptian 
figure abroad. This is due to his cultural blend of East 
and West, idiosyncratic style, international acclaim at 
Cannes and major film institutes, and critical feelings 
about the West, which are evident in his films. Notable 
among his films are Bah al hadid {Cairo Station [1958]), 
AlArd {The Land [1969]), il Usfiir {The Sparrow [1973]), 
Alexandria... Why? (1978), and Le Destin {Destiny 

The New Realist directors of the 1980s are arguably 
the most interesting development in recent Egyptian 
cinema. Belonging to the post- 1967 generation, they 
participated in the student movement that questioned 
the corruption of new businessmen and the economic 
policies of Anwar Sadat. While taking advantage of fiind- 
ing from the Gulf states, they have played with conven- 
tions of realism and melodrama and addressed serious 
social issues. Significant directors from this movement 
include Atef El Tayeb (d. 1995), Saivwaq al-utubis 
{Busdriver [1982]), Mohamed Khan (b. 1942), Zauga 
ragil muhim (Wife of an Important Man [1987]); Khairy 




Beshara (b. 1947), Yawm hulw, yaum murr {Bitter Day, 
Sweet Day [1988]), and Daoud Abd El-Sayyed (b. 1946), 
/5«/5zf (1991). 

SEE ALSO Arab Cinema; National Cinema 


Armes, Roy. Third World Film Making and the West. Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1987. 

Armes, Roy, and Lizbedi Malkmus. Arab and African 
Filmmaking. London: Zed Books, 1991. 

Darwish, Mustafa. Dream Makers on the Nile: A Portrait of 
Egyptian Cinema. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 

Shafik, Viola. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo: 
American University in Cairo Press, 1998. 

Samirah Alkassim 




Like "musical," "comedy," "war film," and "Western," 
"epic" is a term used by Hollywood and its publicists, by 
reviewers, and by academic writers to identify a particular 
type of film. It was first used extensively in the 1910s and 
the 1920s: Variety^ review of Ben-Hur (1925) noted that 
"the word epic has been applied to pictures time and 
again" (6 January 1926: 38). It was particularly prevalent 
in the 1950s and 1960s, when epics of all kinds were 
produced to counter a decline in cinema attendance. And 
it has been recently revived with films such as Gladiator 
(2000), Troy (2004), and The Alamo (2004). As a term, 
"epic" is associated with historical films of all kinds, 
particularly those dealing with events of national or 
global import or scale. As a genre it thus encompasses a 
number of war films and westerns as well as films set in 
earlier periods. But because of its links with ancient 
classical literature, it is associated above all with films 
set in biblical times or the ancient world. However, the 
term "epic" has also been used to identify — and to sell — 
films of all types that have used expensive technologies, 
high production values, and special modes of distribution 
and exhibition to differentiate themselves from routine 
productions and from rival forms of contemporary enter- 
tainment. There are therefore at least two aspects to epics, 
two sets of distinguishing characteristics: those associated 
with historical, biblical, and ancient-world films and 
those associated with large-scale, high-cost productions. 

These aspects have often coincided, as is true not 
only of films such as The Ten Commandments (1923 and 
1956), El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), How the 
West Was Won (1962), and Troy, but of films with more 
recent historical settings such as The Big Parade (1925), 
Exodus (1960), The Longest Day (1962), Schindler's List 

(1993), and Pearl Harbor (2001). However, the produc- 
tion of large-scale, high-cost comedies, musicals, and 
dramas such as Lt's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 
(1963), The Sound of Music (1965), and Gone with the 
Wind (1939) — some of them with historical settings, 
some without — and the production of more routinely 
scaled historical and biblical films such as Salome 
(1953), Hannibal (1960), and, indeed, most war films. 
Westerns, and swashbucklers tend to make hard-and-fast 
definitions more difficult. Generalizations can be made 
about the scale of the films and the events they depict, 
the prominence of visual and aural spectacle, and a 
recurrent preoccupation with political, military, divine, 
or religious power, but, as is often the case with 
Hollywood's genres, anomalies and exceptions of one 
kind or another can nearly always be found. It is easier 
to be more precise about specific periods, cycles, and 


The generic and industrial traditions of the epic film date 
back to the 1890s, when several Passion plays (plays 
representing the life of Christ) were filmed and exhibited 
in unusually lengthy, multi-reel formats. In the period 
between 1905 and 1914, a number of relatively large- 
scale, high-cost historical, biblical, and ancient-world 
films — among them La vie du Christ (1906), The Fall 
of Troy (1910), La siege de Calais (1911), Quo Vadis? 
(1913), and Cabiria (1914) — were made in Italy, France, 
and elsewhere in Europe and helped to establish the 
multi-reel feature. Multi-reel films of a similar kind were 
produced in the United States as well. But at a time when 
production, distribution, and exhibition in the United 



Epic Films 

States were geared to the rapid turnover of programs of 
single-reel films, films like this were often distributed on 
a "road show" basis. Road show films were shown at 
movie theaters as well as alternative local settings such as 
town halls for as long as they were financially viable. 

Many of these films drew on nineteenth-century 
traditions of historical and religious representation, par- 
ticularly paintings and engravings, toga plays. Passion 
plays, pageants, and popular novels such The Last Days 
of Pompeii and Ben-Hur and their subsequent theatrical 
adaptations. They also drew on nineteenth- and early 
twentieth-century preoccupations with Imperial Rome 
and early Christianity, and on an association between 
religious and historical representation and nationhood 
and empire. These traditions and preoccupations were 
particularly prominent among the middle and upper 
classes, to whom many of the earliest multi-reel films 
and features were directed and to whom the aura of 
respectability associated with religious and historical 
topics and the legitimate theater was important. 
Augmented by films such as The Coming of Columbus 
(1912) and The Birth of a Nation (1915), which deah 
with aspects of US history, productions like this helped 
found a tradition of large-scale, high-cost spectacles, 
"superspecial" productions that would be road shown 
not just in legitimate theaters but in the large-scale pic- 
ture palaces that were being built in increasing numbers 
in major cities. Ticket prices were high. The films were 
shown, usually twice a day, at fixed times and with at 
least one intermission. They were usually accompanied 
by an orchestra playing a specially commissioned score. 
Only after a lengthy run in venues like this, a practice 
essential to the recouping of costs and the making of 
profits, would superspecials be shown in more ordinary 
cinemas at regular prices. 

The production of road shown superspecials reached 
a peak in the United States in the 1920s with films like 
Orphans of the Storm (1922), Robin Hood (1922), The 
Covered Wagon (1923), The Ten Commandments (1923), 
The Thief of Bagdad {\32^), The Big Parade {l^lS), The 
Iron Horse (1924), Ben-Hur (1925), Wings (1927), The 
King of Kings (1927), and Noah's Ark (1928). Although 
these films are diverse in setting and type (Robin Hood is 
a swashbuckler. The Thief of Bagdad an exotic costume 
adventure film. The Ten Commandments a biblical epic. 
The Iron Horse a western, and Wings a World War I 
film), there are aesthetic, structural, and thematic links 
among them. Like the epics and spectacles of the 1910s, 
they exhibit what Vivian Sobchack has called "historical 
eventfulness" (p. 32) — that is to say, they mark them- 
selves and the events they depict as historically signifi- 
cant. In addition, nearly all these films narrate stories that 
interweave the destinies of individual characters with the 
destinies of nations, empires, dynasties, religions, politi- 

cal regimes, and ethnic groups. While some focus on 
powerful characters (generals, pharaohs, princes, and 
leaders), many focus on more ordinary characters who 
either become caught up in events over which they have 
little control (as in The Big Parade, Wings, and Orphans 
of the Storm) or are unsung agents of significant historical 
or epochal change (as in The Iron Horse). Robin Hood a.nd 
The Thief of Bagdad are variants in which, as vehicles for 
star and producer Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), the 
power of the central character to effect change is, however 
fancifully, bound up with his physical prowess. 

Following the precedent established by Intolerance 
(1916), the contemporary relevance of the events 
depicted in The Ten Commandments, The King of Kings, 
and Noah's Ark is underscored by including story lines 
and scenes from the present as well as the past. However, 
it is the story lines and scenes from the past that provide 
the most obvious occasions for spectacle. Difficult to 
define, spectacle is clearly not restricted to epics and to 
spectacle films as such; however, films of this kind played 
an important role in exploring, organizing, and legitimiz- 
ing cinema's spectacular appeal and potential, in main- 
taining the involvement of contemporary audiences in 
much longer films than they had initially been used to, in 
mediating between competing contemporary demands 
for realism and spectacle, narrative and display. This 
was evident not just in their expansive batde scenes, 
crowd scenes, and settings, their expensive costumes 
and sets, or their use of new technologies. Epic films 
were regularly used to showcase new special effects, new 
camera techniques, and new color processes such as two- 
color Technicolor. It was evident, too, in their capacity to 
encompass incidental details, intimate scenes, and indi- 
vidualized story lines and to make sequences of spectacle 
such as the exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red 
Sea in The Ten Commandments clearly serve dramatic and 
narrative ends. 


With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, 
Hollywood companies cut back on expensive produc- 
tions and road shows. These practices were revived in 
the early 1930s, establishing a cross-generic trend toward 
what Tino Balio calls "prestige pictures" (pp. 179-211). 
However, although many prestige pictures were top-of- 
the-range costume films of one kind or another (adapta- 
tions of classic literature, biopics, swashbucklers, and the 
like), very few were made and road shown on the scale of 
the silent superspecial. Fewer still were biblical films and 
films with ancient-world settings. Cecil B. DeMille 
(1881-1959), who had produced and directed The Ten 
Commandments and The King of Kings in the silent era, 



Epic Films 

b. Cecil Blount de Mille, Ash field, Massachussetts, 12 August 1881, d. 21 January 1959 

Cecil Blount DeMille was a major figure in Hollywood 
from the mid-1910s to the late 1950s. Remembered now 
mainly as a showman and as the producer/director of a 
number of biblical epics, he was in fact a versatile 
innovator who made important films of all kinds 
throughout his career. 

DeMille's parents were involved in the theater. When 
his father died, he worked as actor and general manager for 
his mother's theatrical company and also produced and 
wrote plays with his brother, William. In 1913, he left the 
theater to work in motion pictures as cofounder of the 
Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. In 1914, he 
coproduced, cowrote, and codirected its first film, The 
Squaw Man, a six-reel adaptation of Edwin Royle's play, 
which was a success. When the Lasky company became 
part of Paramount later that year, DeMille supervised its 
production program. He also wrote, produced, directed, 
and edited many of its films. 

By the mid- 1920s, DeMille had been at the forefront 
of a number of key developments: the use of plays as a 
template for feature-length films; the production of 
feature-length westerns; the dramatic use of low-key 
lighting effects, most notably in The Cheat (1915) and 
The Heart of Nora Flynn (1916); the production of Jazz 
Age marital comedies such as Don't Change Your 
Husband (1919) and Why Change Your Wife? (1920) 
(both of them written, as many of DeMille's films 
were, by or with Jeannie Macpherson); and the 
production of "superspecials" such as The Ten 
Commandments (1923). 

The Ten Commandments, a Paramount film, was the 
first of DeMille's biblical epics. His second. The King of 

Kings (1927), was released through Producers Distributing 
Corporation, a company for whom he began making films 
in 1925. Following a period with MGM, DeMille 
returned to Paramount to make The Sign of the Cross in 
1932. He remained with Paramount for the remainder of 
his career, making social problem dramas, westerns, and 
spectacles like Samson and Delilah ( 1 949) , The Greatest 
Show on Earth (1952), and the 1956 remake of The Ten 
Commandments. From 1936 to 1945, he also hosted and 
directed adaptations of Hollywood films and Broadway 
plays for Lux Radio Theater. 

DeMille's films are usually said to be marked by a 
formula in which seductive presentations of sin are 
countered by verbal appeals to a Christian ethic inherent 
in scenes of redemption and in the providential outcome 
of events. However, it is worth stressing the extent to 
which, as the actions of characters like Moses, Samson, 
and John Trimble (in The Whispering Chorus) all illustrate, 
acts of virtue as well of sin in these films entail unusually 
perverse or destructive behavior. 


The Cheat (1915), The Whispering Chorus (1918), Why 

Change Your Wife? (1922), The Ten Commandments (1923 
and 1956), This Day and Age {X')^?,), Union Pacific {X')?,')) 


Birchard, Robert S. Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood. Lexington: 
University of Kentucky Press, 2004. 

DeMille, Cecil B. The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille. 

Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959. 
Higashi, Sumiko. Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: The 

Silent Era. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. 

Steve Neale 

produced and directed The Sign of the Cross (1932) and 
Cleopatra (1934). But along with The Last Days of 
Pompeii (1935), which was produced by Merian C. 
Cooper (1893-1973) and directed by Ernest B. 
Schoedsack (1893-1979), these productions were the 
only biblical and ancient-world productions made 
between 1928 and 1949. All three may be interpreted 
as films that engage the Depression and its moral impli- 

cations in various ways. Toward the end of the 1930s, 
David O. Selznick (1902-1965) explicitly appealed to 
the traditions of the silent road shown superspecial when 
producing and planning the distribution of Gone with the 
Wind. He went on to produce Since You Went Away 
(1944), an epic home-front drama, and Duel in the Sun 
(1946), an epic western. DeMille, meanwhile, sought to 
revive the biblical epic by re-releasing The Sign of the 



Epic Films 

Cecil B. DeMille. EVERETT collection. REPRODUCED BY 

Cross in 1944 and producing and directing Samson and 
Delilah in 1949. 

By 1949, Hollywood was undergoing a long-term 
process of change. Audiences, ticket sales, and profits 
were in decline; the ownership of theater chains by 
major studios was declared illegal; competition from 
television, domestic leisure pursuits, and other forms 
of entertainment were on the rise; and at a time when 
income from overseas markets was more important to 
Hollywood companies, a number of European countries 
were taking steps to protect their domestic economies, 
to stimulate domestic fdm production, and hence to 
limit the earnings Hollywood companies could take 
out of these countries each year. At the same time, the 
Cold War, nationalist and anti-imperial struggles, the 
superpower status of the United States, the marked 
increase in church-going, and the prevalence of religious 
discourse in the US itself provided a set of contexts and 
reference points for many of the films, in particular the 
big-budget road shown epics Hollywood was to pro- 
duce, co-fund, or distribute during the course of the 
next two decades. 

The postwar growth in epic production was the 
result of a decision to spend more money on enhancing 

the cinema's capacity for spectacle through the use of 
stereophonic sound and new widescreen, large-screen, 
and large-gauge technologies and on an increasing num- 
ber of what were beginning to be called "blockbuster" 
productions — productions that, in road show form in 
particular, could be used to justify higher prices and 
generate high profits in a shrinking market. MGM led 
the way in road showing remakes of silent spectacles and 
in using income held abroad to fimd the use of overseas 
facilities, locations, and production personnel with Quo 
Vadis in 1951. Two years later, Twentieth Century Fox 
pioneered the use of CinemaScope and stereophonic 
sound with its adaptation of Lloyd C. Douglas's best- 
selling novel The Robe. In 1956, DeMille released a four- 
hour remake of The Ten Commandments, which used 
Paramount's new VistaVision process, was shot in 
Egypt, Sinai, and Hollywood, and cost over $13 million. 
The film made more than $30 million on its initial 
release in the US and Canada alone. The following year, 
Columbia released The Bridge on the River Kwai, one of 
the first in a series of road shown epic war films. And in 
1960, the road show release of Cimarron and The Alamo, 
the latter filmed in Todd-AO, helped cement a trend 
toward epic Westerns. 

The Bridge on the River Kwai was produced by Sam 

Spiegel (1901-1985), an internationally based inde- 
pendent producer. Along with Lawrence of Arabia 
(1962), it was one of a series of epics he made with 
British director David Lean (1908-1991). The Bridge on 
the River Kwai was filmed in Ceylon using a mix of 
British, American, Japanese, and Ceylonese actors, stars, 
and production personnel. Ceylon was a British colony, 
and The Bridge on the River Kwai was registered as a 
British film in order to take advantage of British sub- 
sidies. Although credited to the French writer Pierre 
BouUe (who wrote the novel on which it was based), 
its script actually was written by Carl Foreman and 
extensively revised by Michael Wilson, both of them 
blacklisted US Communists. 

The national identity of a film like The Bridge on 
the River Kwai is thus hard to pin down. This was an 
era of increasing independent production, in which 
funding for films was increasingly obtained on a one- 
off basis from a variety of international sources and 
international settings, locations, and casts were becom- 
ing the norm for big-budget productions. Blacklisted 
writers, whether officially credited or not, were hired to 
write or co-write scripts for epic productions such as 
Exodus, Spartacus (1960), El Cid, The Guns ofNavarone 

(1961) , Lawrence of Arabia, Sodom and Gomorrah 

(1962) , 55 Days at Peking, and The Fall of the Roman 
Empire (1964), and cut-price Italian "peplums" (toga 
films) such as Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained 



Epic Films 

Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's remake of his own The Ten Commandments (1956). EVERETT COLLECTION. 


(1959) proved popular at the box office in the US as 
well as in Europe. 

Hence the ideological characteristics of postwar epics 
are difficult to categorize. While the prologue to The Ten 
Commandments explicitly declares its anti-Communist 
agenda. Quo Vadis, The Robe, Spartacus, and The Fall of 
the Roman Empire are anti-fascist. Most of the remainder, 
even some of the westerns, are hostile to imperialism 
and to the brutal, cynical, and dictatorial exercise of 
political and military power. But they are often com- 
promised by their focus on white ethnic characters. And 
their displays of male heroism, sometimes in stark con- 
tradiction to an apparent concern with the ethics of war, 
add a further layer of ideological complication. Only in 
films like The Egyptian (1954), King of Kings (1961), 
and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) are male hero- 
ism, male ambition, and the options of political and 

military engagement explicitly qualified, eschewed, or 


Although epic war films and big-budget musicals con- 
tinued to be made in the 1970s and early 1980s, the road 
shown superspecial and the prestige epic were increas- 
ingly displaced by what has come to be known as the 
New Hollywood blockbuster. As exemplified by faws 
(1975), Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), and 
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), New Hollywood block- 
busters drew their inspiration from the B film, the serial, 
comic books, and action-adventure pulps rather than 
from the culturally prestigious traditions of the 
Hollywood epic. Wide-released rather than road shown, 
they were designed to appeal to teenagers and families 
with young children and to garner profits as rapidly as 



Epic Films 

possible. However, productions in the prestige epic tra- 
dition such as Dances with Wolves (1990), The English 
Patient (1996), and Schindler's List -were still occasionally 
made. Some of them received a relatively exclusive "plat- 
form" release. And the New Hollywood blockbuster, like 
the old Hollywood epic, functioned as a special vehicle 
for spectacle, large-scale stories and new technologies. 
Indeed, the advent of CGI (computer-generated imagery) 
seems to have been a major factor in the recent revival of 
the epic not just in its traditional forms, as exemplified 
by Gladiator, Troy, King Arthur (2004), and Alexander, 
but in the guise of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well. In 
all these fdms the themes of heroism, justice and the uses 
and abuses of power, representational prowess, large-scale 
spectacle, and large-scale stories and settings remain 
among the epic's principal ingredients. 

SEE ALSO Action and Adventure Films; Genre; Historical 
Films; Religion 


Babington, Bruce, and Peter William Evans. Biblical Epics: Sacred 
Narrative in the Hollywood Cinema. Manchester: Manchester 
University Press, 1993. 

Balio, Tino. Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business 
Enterprise, 1930-1939. New York: Scribner, 1993. 

Bowser, Eileen. The Transformation of Cinema: 1907-1915. New 
York Scribner, 1990. 

Cohan, Steve, and Ina Rae Hark, eds. Screening the Male: 
Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. London: 
Roudedge, 1993. 

EUey, Derek. The Epic Film: Myth and History. London: 

Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984. 

Forshey, Gerald E. American Religious and Biblical Spectaculars. 
London: Praeger, 1992. 

Hall, Sheldon. "Tall Revenue Features: The Genealogy of the 
Modern Blockbuster." In Genre and Contemporary Hollywood, 
edited by Steve Neale, 1 1-26. London: British Film Institute, 

King, GeolF. Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the 
Blockbuster. London: I. B. Tauris, 2000. 

Sobchack, Vivian. " 'Surge and Splendor': A Phenomenology of the 
Hollywood Epic." Representations 29 (Winter 1990): 24-49. 
Reprinted in Film Genre Reader III, edited by Brian Keith 
Grant, 296-323. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. 

Wyke, Maria. Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema, and 
History. New York: Routledge, 1997. 

Steve Neale 




Exhibition is the retail branch of the film industry. It 
involves not the production or the distribution of motion 
pictures, but their public screening, usually for paying 
customers in a site devoted to such screenings, the movie 
theater. What the exhibitor sells is the experience of a 
fdm (and, frequently, concessions like soft drinks and 
popcorn). Because exhibitors to some extent control 
how films are programmed, promoted, and presented to 
the public, they have considerable influence over the box- 
office success and, more importantly, the reception of 

Though films have always been shown in non- 
theatrical as well as theatrical venues, the business of film 
exhibition primarily entails the ownership, management, 
and operation of theaters. Historically, film exhibitors 
have been faced with a number of situations common 
to other sectors of the commercial entertainment indus- 
try: shifting market conditions, strong competition, 
efixjrts to achieve monopolization of the field, govern- 
ment regulatory actions, and costly investment in new 


The first moving picture exhibitors were itinerant show- 
men who exploited the novelty of projected moving 
pictures by using the same film program for a series of 
brief engagements in different locations. They typically 
purchased outright the short films they screened at thea- 
ters, churches, and public halls. As early as 1903, film 
exchanges that owned and rented moving pictures 
emerged in Boston, Chicago, and New York City, creat- 
ing a separation between exhibition and distribution and 

helping to standardize the emerging film industry. 
Exhibitors rented films by the reel from an exchange, 
allowing for more frequently changed programs at one 
specific location and therefore the establishment of nick- 
elodeons, which were inexpensive storefront movie 

One important early variant of the exchange system 
was the "states rights" model, in which the distribution 
rights for a film were sold by territory, often by individ- 
ual state. Exhibitors then contracted with the rights 
owner. Within the constraints of price and print avail- 
ability, the early exhibitor had considerable latitude in 
booking films of special interest to the local audience. 

With the advent of the multi-reel feature film in the 
early 1910s, certain high profile films, like The Birth of a 
Nation (1915), were circulated through the country as 
"road shows." Much like touring stage productions, road 
show films were promoted as special events that were 
booked into individual venues (often legitimate theaters 
or small-town "opera houses") for multi-day runs. This 
strategy remained in place through the 1920s, then re- 
emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when the most expen- 
sive, spectacular, star-laden productions (usually in color 
and widescreen) like Ben-Hur (1959) were first exhibited 
on a road show basis with patrons paying notably higher 
admission prices for reserved seats at these heavily pro- 
moted motion picture events. 

Somewhat akin to the road show was a practice called 
"four-walling," where a theater was rented for a special 
screening that in some fashion was quite distinct from 
standard motion picture fare. Four-walling was used, for 
instance, during the 1930s to present foreign-language 




films to immigrant audiences in the United States. But it 
was most commonly employed from the 1920s through 
the 1950s as an exhibition strategy for sensationalistic 
"exploitation" films about childbirth, drug addiction, 
prostitution, and sexually transmitted diseases. At the 
other end of the spectrum. Sun Classic Pictures and 
other firms specializing in family-oriented product had 
considerable success during the 1970s with four-wall 
exhibition of films like The Life and Times of Grizzly 
Adams (1974). 

As lucrative as road shows and four-walling proved 
to be in the selling of individual films, the crux of the 
film exhibition business has remained the ownership and 
daily operation of movie theaters, which requires a steady 
stream of product booked through film distributors. 
Given the low start-up costs, the first theaters dedicated 
to offering moving pictures as their primary, regular 
drawing card were usually independently owned and 
operated. From early on, however, exhibitors realized 
that it made economic sense to adopt a strategy then 
used for vaudeville theaters and penny arcades and oper- 
ate more than one theater under the auspices of a single 
amusement company. Thus a key exhibition strategy that 
emerged during the nickelodeon era was the theater 
chain. A chain (or circuit of theaters) might encompass 
more than 1 00 venues or might be as small as a string of 
picture shows in adjacent neighborhoods or towns. 
Regional theater chains became especially prominent in 
the 1910s. The Stanley Company based in Philadelphia, 
for example, had by the mid- 1920s grown to 250 theaters 
across the entire East Coast. Regional chains based in, 
among other places, Milwaukee (the Saxe Brothers), 
Detroit (John Kunsky), and St. Louis (the Skouras 
Brothers) became dominant forces in the industry even 
before these companies combined in 1917 to form the 
First National Exhibitors' Circuit. First National was one 
of several attempts in the 1920s to create a national 
network of theaters, including Publix Theaters, the exhi- 
bition branch of Paramount studios. For its national 
chain, Publix borrowed managerial strategies based on 
the principles of successful grocery and department store 

Perhaps most successful among this first generation 
of exhibition entrepreneurs who would later shape the 
Hollywood studio system was Marcus Loew (1870- 
1927), who began his career running arcades and nickel- 
odeons in New York City. To guarantee the regular 
supply of films for his theaters, Loew acquired produc- 
tion and distribution companies and in 1924 formed 
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), a vertically integrated 
company that produced and distributed films as well as 
owning and operating a chain of first-run theaters in 
major metropolitan areas. Controlling a significant part 
of the exhibition market was an essential strategy not 

only for MGM, but for all of the major Hollywood 
studios. Paramount, for example, followed a similar logic 
when it merged with the Balaban & Katz chain of 
theaters (based in Chicago), and so did Warner Bros, 
when it acquired the Stanley theaters in the same period. 

While weekly attendance in the United States 
reached 22 million by 1922 and rose to approximately 
80 million by the end of the decade, the construction of 
opulent picture palaces during the 1920s fiirther solidi- 
fied the prominence of the major studio-owned theater 
chains, most of which expanded by acquiring more thea- 
ters as the industry completed its transformation to 
sound during the late 1920s. Independent exhibitors 
had few options: sell out to a chain, invest in the cosdy 
equipment required for sound films, or close. The Great 
Depression exacerbated the dilemma of the independent 
exhibitor, as movie attendance dropped precipitously 
after the novelty of sound had worn off dropping off 
to 50 million per week. New theater construction 
stopped almost completely, and even the largest chains 
felt the strain: Paramount-Publix went into receivership, 
as did Fox; Loew's reduced its holdings to 150 big-city 
theaters; and Warner Bros, sold 300 of its 700 theaters. 


One reason that the major studios could attain virtually 
monopolistic control over the film industry is that they 
developed several business strategies during the 1910s 
and 1920s that all in some way constrained the inde- 
pendent exhibitor's freedom in booking films. These 
strategies continued to play a central role in film exhibi- 
tion until the end of the 1940s. Perhaps most important 
was the run-zone- clearance system, which enabled the 
"Big Five" major studios (MGM, Paramount, RKO, 
Warner Bros., and Twentieth Century Fox) to control 
the distribution of the films they produced. This system 
was designed to guarantee that films were circulated so as 
to ensure broad exhibition and to bring in maximum 
profits to the parent company. The national exhibition 
market (especially the urban market) in the United States 
was divided into geographical zones. In each zone, films 
moved consecutively from first-run through several inter- 
mediate steps (second-run, third-run, and so on) to final- 
run venues. Ticket prices tended to drop with each run. 
There was, in addition, a "clearance" time between runs, 
which meant that moviegoers could expect to wait 
months or up to a year after a film premiered at a 
downtown picture palace before it reached a neighbor- 
hood theater or a small-town venue. By privileging their 
own theaters and organizing distribution according to the 
run-zone-clearance system, the Big Five assured their 
dominance of the American motion picture industry. 




b. New York, New York, 7 May 1870, d. 5 September 1927 

Marcus Loew, the creator of MGM and one of the most 
successful figures in the motion picture industry during 
the silent era, was, first and foremost, an exhibitor. 
"I don't sell tickets to movies," he is said to have declared, 
"I sell tickets to theaters." 

Born to immigrant parents on New York's Lower 
East Side, Loew moved into commercial entertainment 
after working in the garment industry. In 1904, he co- 
founded the People's Vaudeville Company, which soon 
expanded its holdings to include several penny arcades in 
New York City and one in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he 
built all 0-seat theater on the second floor to screen 
motion pictures. 

Loew ran nickelodeons, but he made his mark with 
what was called "small-time vaudeville," a show that 
combined live vaudeville performance with motion 
pictures — all for a relatively inexpensive ticket price. In the 
first of many acquisitions, in 1908 he purchased and 
refurbished the Royal Theater in Brooklyn. His chain of 
New York theaters grew to forty small-time vaudeville 
venues, including impressive new theaters, like the 2,400- 
seat Loew's National. By the end of the 1910s, Loew 
owned or leased more than fifty large theaters from 
Canada to New Orleans, with an especially prominent 
presence in the major Northeast cities. 

Like other moguls, Loew became committed to 
developing a vertically integrated motion picture 
company, which controlled production and distribution as 
well as exhibition. He formed Loew's, Incorporated in 
1919, purchased the Metro film studio and then Goldwyn 

Pictures. Loew's theater holdings increased to more than 
100 first-class venues, topped by the 3,500-seat Loew's 
State Theater in Times Square. In 1924, Loew acquired 
Louis B. Mayer's Los Angeles studio and Metro-Goldwyn- 
Mayer was formed, with Loew's Inc. as its parent 
company. Until his death in 1927, Marcus Loew served as 
president of Loew's/MGM, continuing to expand his 
theater holdings, including newly built picture palaces. 

Loew's legacy lasted long after his death, beyond the 
success of MGM in the 1930s. Following the Paramount 
decision in 1948, which ordered studios to divest 
themselves of their theater holdings, Loew's became by the 
late 1950s a separate entity from MGM, with fewer than 
100 theaters. Over the next twenty years, Loew's 
diversified its holdings but maintained a relatively small 
number of theaters. However, through ensuing expansion 
and corporate mergers, Loew's by the 1990s had become 
an 885-screen chain owned by Sony Pictures 
Entertainment. Merged with Cineplex Odeon, Loew's 
Cineplex Entertainment eventually controlled almost 
3,000 screens in 450 North American and European 
locations. With much hoopla, Loew's Cineplex in 2004 
celebrated its 100 years of being in the exhibition business. 


Crowther, Bosley. The Lion 's Share: The Story of an 

Entertainment Empire. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1957. 

Gomery, Douglas. The Hollywood Studio System. New York: 
St. Martin's Press, 1986. 

Gregory A. Waller 

Exhibition at independently owned and operated 
theaters was also constrained by procedures that gov- 
erned how major studio fdms were booked by exhib- 
itors. "Blind booking" meant that exhibitors had to 
schedule the films for the coming season based only 
on descriptions provided by the studio, with no actual 
preview prints available. Furthermore, exhibitors had 
little choice but to agree to "block booking," which 
required that they take a full season or at least a sig- 
nificant number of films (shorts as well as features) 
from the same studio. Exhibitors were thus less able 

than in the past to pick and choose titles and thus tailor 
their programming, week-by-week, to a particular 

Exhibitors had always been constrained in other 
ways as well. For instance, from the nickelodeon era 
onward, they had faced considerable pressure from reli- 
gious and reform groups and actual policing from munic- 
ipal and state authorities, especially in the form of 
building and safety codes, Sunday closing laws, and 
license fees. Flowever, exhibitors stood to benefit from 
government intervention when the Federal Trade 




Marcus Loew. EVERETT collection, reproduced by 


Commission in 1921 accused Paramount of unfair busi- 
ness practices and illegal restraint of trade, beginning a 
legal process that continued on and off for more than 
twenty years. In 1938, the Justice Department initiated 
anti-trust proceedings against the major Hollywood stu- 
dios, leading to a temporary consent decree in 1940 that 
prohibited blind booking and limited block booking to 
groups of no more than five films. Finally, in 1948, the 
United States Supreme Court delivered its decision in 
what was called the "Paramount case," a sweeping ruling 
that eliminated block booking, challenged monopolistic 
practices, and significandy altered the relationship 
between film distribution and exhibition. 

The major decision in United States v. Paramount, 
et al. was to restrict Hollywood studios from owning and 
operating movie theaters. This divestiture took place over 
the next six years and to some degree it opened up the 
American market for independent theaters and newly 
formed theater chains. The 1948 court ruling also pro- 
hibited block booking, meaning that films were hence- 
forth to be rented to a theater not as a package or a 
season, but individually. In addition, the ruling put an 

end to the frequently long clearance time between when a 
film was shown at a first-run theater and when it reached 
subsequent run theaters. In sum, the Paramount case 
dramatically opened up the marketplace and altered 
how exhibitors selected and scheduled movies. But since 
the production companies were by the 1950s no longer 
directly in the film exhibition business, they did not have 
their previous incentive to deliver many new films year 
round. Furthermore, blind booking was not explicitly 
banned as part of the Paramount decision, and this 
practice re-emerged, especially in the 1970s, as produc- 
tion costs rose and wider distribution patterns became 
the norm for first-run films. 


The World War II years, with a fully employed work- 
force, marked a high point in the film exhibition business 
in the United States. Weekly attendance topped 
80 million annually from 1943 to 1946. Exhibitors not 
only sold a record number of tickets, but reinforced their 
civic role through public service gestures: selling govern- 
ment war bonds and staging drives to collect rubber, 
scrap metal, and other material needed for the war effort. 
Yet between 1946 and 1953, ticket sales in the United 
States dropped by almost 50 percent. By 1960, weekly 
attendance at the movies was only 30 million, dipping 
further, to 18 million, by 1970. 

If the Paramount case seemed to assure greater latitude 
for theater owners, Hollywood's mid-1950s commitment 
to color and wide-screen processes (like Cinemascope) 
meant that exhibitors were strongly encouraged to invest 
in another costly technological upgrading of projectors, 
screens, and sound equipment. At the same time, the film 
audience through the 1950s and 1960s became progres- 
sively younger and more male than had previously been 
the case. Drive-ins came to form a key part of the larger 
exhibition market, even as the industry suffered continuing 
effects from the rise of commercial television as a readily 
available source of entertainment in the home. 

Television, however, quickly became another outlet, 
or exhibition window, for Hollywood films, as studio 
film libraries were sold or rented to TV stations, with 
RKO leading the way in 1954. By the mid-1960s it was 
commonplace for new films to move relatively quickly to 
prime time television after they had completed their 
theatrical runs. Even with poor quality sound, panned- 
and-scanned images (that is, wide-screen films cropped to 
fit the dimensions of the TV screen), and commercial 
interruptions, movies drew large audiences on American 
network television. By the end of the 1960s the precedent 
had been firmly set for later developments of the tele- 
vision set as "home [movie] theater." With the emer- 
gence and widespread diffusion of cable and satellite 




networks, videocassettes, and DVDs, watching movies no 
longer necessarily meant going to the movies. One result 
was that the second- and third-run theaters that had been 
so important during the first half of the twentieth century 
disappeared, leaving the theatrical exhibition business 
overwhelmingly dependent on first-run venues. 

As theatrical exhibition shrank, the movie theater 
changed as well, partly in response to the Paramount 
decision. Multiplex cinemas, first situated in shopping 
centers, then in shopping malls, became the core of the 
business by the 1970s. New theater chains emerged, like 
General Cinema, which began with a handfiil of drive-ins 
and ultimately grew to more than 200 venues, mosdy 
shopping mall multiplexes. American Multi-Cinema, 
which pioneered the multiplex concept in Kansas City 
in 1963, refined this particular exhibition model as the 
company opened increasingly larger multiplexes. By 
1980 American Multi-Cinema's 130 theaters across the 
United States contained some 700 screens. That year 
attendance stood at 20 million weekly. (It would rise to 
25 million by 1995 and to 30 million by 2002.) The 
spread of the multiplex meant that film exhibition 
increasingly became a matter of scheduling nationally 
advertised, widely available, first-run films with litde 
regard for the particularities of locality or audience. 

The exhibition business went through another round 
of significant changes during the mid-1980s, when the 
Reagan administration encouraged a return to the pre- 
1948 era by allowing a much greater corporate consol- 
idation of production, distribution, and exhibition. 
Entertainment companies quickly sought to create verti- 
cal monopolies that included the ownership of theaters, 
as well as new exhibition windows like satellite television. 
At the same time, corporate mergers and takeovers meant 
that fewer companies came to control a greater number 
of screens, with much investment in free-standing mega- 
plex theaters, not only in suburbs but also in metropol- 
itan areas. 

From the late 1970s on, exhibition also changed 
because wider release patterns for first-run films — called 
"saturation booking" — increasingly became the norm 
after the success of films like Jaws (1975). This move 
was prompted by the high cost of film production, the 
drop in the number of major studio releases, the need for 
distributors to pre-sell as-yet-uncompleted films to exhib- 
itors (a form of blind booking), and the reliance on 
television as the prime advertising medium for new films. 
Not only did distributors aim toward saturating the 
market by making new films simultaneously available 
on a thousand or more screens, but they also insisted 
that new releases be given extended theatrical runs, mov- 
ing from larger to smaller auditoria inside the same 
multi-screen theater. Thus while newly designed, high- 

quality theater complexes with eight or more screens held 
out the possibility that moviegoers might choose among a 
more diverse array of films, this was, in practice, rarely 
the case. 


What the exhibitor delivers to paying customers is more 

than a film, it is the experience of a film program, which 
has varied significantly since the first public screening of 
moving pictures in 1896. Three key variables are 
involved here: (1) the exhibitor's degree of control over 
the program; (2) the range of films available; and (3) the 
actual composition of the program, including the variety 
of screened material (slides as well as motion pictures) 
and the role, if any, of live performance. 

The exhibitors who introduced moving pictures in 
1896-1898 had considerable creative control over the 
programs they ofi^ered to a curious public. While they 
very rarely shot the footage they screened, these traveling 
exhibitors did acquire and arrange a series of short films, 
which meant that they could juxtapose actualites (such as 
the Lumiere films of everyday life that were shot out- 
doors on location) with filmed vaudeville acts or staged 
scenes. Depending on the venue and the intended audi- 
ence, the array of short films was, in turn, combined in 
different ways with a wide range of other entertainment 
options: magic lantern slides or phonograph recordings, 
vocal or instrumental performances, novelty acts or edu- 
cational lectures. In such cases, the program was typically 
designed to offer a variety of distinct attractions, though 
it soon became possible for exhibitors to create more 
unified shows in which the screened material and the live 
performances were arranged around a particular theme, 
such as the Spanish American War. 

By 1900, moving pictures had become a regular 
feature on certain vaudeville circuits, where they served 
as one self-enclosed part of a program that might include 
six or more separate attractions, each occupying the stage 
for ten to twenty minutes. In this type of program, film 
was merely another interchangeable component, compa- 
rable to an acrobatic act or an ethnic comedy routine. In 
a similar fashion, moving pictures also served as novelty 
entertainment screened between the acts of touring mel- 
odramas and as part of the midway attractions offered by 
traveling carnivals and circuses. 

When permanent movie theaters emerged during the 
nickelodeon era, the program changed significantly. 
Nickelodeons typically ran a continuous show in which 
a forty-five- or sixty-minute program was repeated 
throughout the day, then changed daily or at least several 
times each week. Using films rented from film exchanges, 
the nickelodeon operator offered several split or full reel 
films, each running from approximately five to fifteen 




minutes, combined in almost all cases with live entertain- 
ment: musical accompaniment for the screenings (on 
piano or some sort of mechanical musical device) as -weA 
as illustrated songs. Illustrated songs featured a singer 
whose vocal rendition of a popular song accompanied 
the projection of a series of colorful slides indicating the 
lyrics and, more ingeniously, "illustrating" the song with 
staged tableaux and sometimes extraordinary visual 
effects. Other slides olfered information about the show 
or instructions on movie-theater etiquette (for example, 
"Don't Spit on the Floor"). 

Within the standard programming format of short 
films and illustrated songs, the nickelodeon operator in 
fact had a great deal of latitude in tailoring the show for a 
specific audience. Exhibitors might hire performers to 
add sound effects to the silent films or even have off- 
stage actors voice the on-screen dialogue. A speaker, 
called a "lecturer," sometimes provided a continuous 
spoken plot synopsis and description, especially for films 
based on Biblical, literary, or high cultural sources. 

Magicians, vocal trios, and other vaudeville-style acts 
might appear on the same bill as moving pictures. 

With the consolidation of the American film indus- 
try in the 1910s and the growing prominence of the serial 
and the multi-reel "feature" film, one common program- 
ming strategy was the "balanced" program offering a fioll 
evening's worth of entertainment. Until the end of the 
silent film era in the late 1920s, the feature film was 
usually accompanied, if not always preceded, by two or 
more shorts: a one or two-reel comedy or western, news- 
reel installment, serial episode, "scenic" (a travelogue or 
other nonfiction short), or animated cartoon. Advertising 
slides, too, continued to figure as part of the program — 
pitching nationally available products, local stores and 
services, and coming attraaions. 

As larger and more grandiose picture palaces began to 
appear, as well as more modest neighborhood and small- 
town theaters, programming could be quite varied, not 
only in terms of the quality and length of the feature film, 
but also in the number of shorts and, more importantly. 




in the live components of the program. For instance, in 
1918, a major big-city theater, like the Strand in New 
York City, presented its program four times daily, begin- 
ning with an overture from the house orchestra, followed 
by a newsreel and scenic, two numbers from a female 
singer, a feature film, two numbers from a male singer, a 
comic short, and an organ solo. Organists like Paul 
Ash and Jesse Crawford became major drawing cards 
in their own right. During the 1920s, picture palaces 
added even more spectacular live performances to the 
show, including elaborate Broadway-styled production 
numbers, which sometimes took the form of a "prologue" 
that was connected thematically to that day's featured 

Smaller venues continued to provide some form of 
musical performance, if only by a pianist or a mechanical 
music machine. But such theaters might also add, on 
occasion, a special attraction: a pared-down prologue, a 
band performing Hawaiian music, or, by the mid- 1920s, 
jazz; traveling musical comedy troupes, minstrel shows, 
and magic acts; or participants in a local talent contest. 
Indeed, film exhibitors' widespread reliance on all man- 
ner of live music meant that by the end of the silent era, 
more musicians worked in movie theaters than in concert 
halls, hotels, and nightclubs combined. 

The coming of sound fundamentally altered the film 
program, at least in terms of its live component. Short 
sound films of vaudeville acts and famous orchestras were 
intended to replace certain live performers on the bill. 
More significandy, Hollywood's rapid transformation to 
sound put countless musicians and theater organists out 
of work, leading the Musicians Union to undertake a 
futile public relations campaign against "canned" music. 
Live performance did, however, remain a special attrac- 
tion for a great many movie theaters well into the 1940s, 
which booked touring variety shows, radio performers, 
amateur contests, magicians and midnight "spook" 
shows, and, by the late 1930s, the film industry's own 
singing cowboys, like Gene Autry (1907-1998). 

Newsreels, cartoons, serial episodes, and a range of 
other shorts continued to accompany the feature film in 
programming during the 1930s (and, indeed, into the 
1960s). But the Depression also saw the widespread use 
of another exhibition strategy, the double feature, which 
paired selected shorts with two feature films, sometimes 
each of less than an hour in length. This popular pro- 
gramming strategy went hand-in-hand with the increased 
production of low-budget, sixty-minute, series films (fre- 
quently westerns) and other B movies, which were 
designed to fit the requirements of the double feature. 
About 300 different films were needed annually by a 
theater that offered three changes of double-feature pro- 
grams each week. For the independent theater owner, the 

demand for more feature films allowed for somewhat 
more control over the program. Highly vocal opposition 
to the double feature came especially from concerned 
parents and teachers, who worried about the effect on 
children. Yet by the end of the 1930s, more than half of 
the theaters in the United States were regularly offering 
double features, with some even resorting to triple fea- 
tures or to continuous programs of low-budget "action" 
films. The double feature also allowed for a regularly 
scheduled intermission, which boosted concession sales. 

The double (or triple) feature with intermission 
breaks also became the standard program at drive-in 
theaters during the 1950s, while some form of the bal- 
anced program (combining shorts with a feature film) 
survived well into the 1960s. Overall, from 1950 on, 
there was increased attention given to coming attraction 
trailers as part of the show and less to comic and dramatic 
short films. But even as the industry focused increasingly 
during the 1980s on the high-budget blockbuster 
designed to be the sole drawing card in a multiplex or 
megaplex cinema, the program continued to involve more 
than simply or solely a feature film. Trivia games, innoc- 
uous recorded music, advertising slides, filmed commer- 
cials, public service announcements, instructions on 
correct audience behavior, and, most notably, flashy 
trailers for coming attractions — all these elements served 
as components of the film program in the late twentieth 
century, though there was little opportunity for the indi- 
vidual theater to customize its offerings. 


While the exhibition business has always depended on 
attracting a core of regular or habitual moviegoers, exhib- 
itors have also been quick to exploit specialized screening 
and programming occasions, often directed toward a 
more niche audience. For example, Saturday matinee 
screenings specifically designed to attract children were 
initially promoted by progressive civic organizations in 
the 1910s, but soon evolved into a profitable staple for 
many film exhibitors. The 1930s saw an increased inter- 
est in the Saturday matinee, which favored cartoons, 
comic shorts, and serial episodes, sometimes coupled 
with live performances, giveaway contests, and talent 

Independent exhibitors in the pre-television era also 
took advantage of other specialized programming possibil- 
ities by scheduling commercially sponsored shows designed 
to display new appliances and other consumer goods to 
female audiences. Especially in areas where there were 
no theaters catering specifically to an African American 
clientele, exhibitors might also offer special "colored" 
screenings, usually late in the evening. Sometimes called 
"midnight rambles," these shows reinforced prevailing 




Publicity outside a movie theater screening Show Boat (James Whale, 1936). EVERETT COLLECTION. REPRODUCED BY 

codes of racial segregation, while also suggesting that even a 
small-town theater owner could profit by attracting a 
niunber of different audiences. 

As early as the 1920s but especially in the 1950s and 
1960s, art house cinemas in major urban areas and 
college towns offered a self-consciously high cultural 
alternative to mainstream moviegoing. Specializing prin- 
cipally in non-American films and independent produc- 
tions, these venues promised a more intimate, adult, and 
"refined" experience both in terms of their programming 
and also their ambience and decor, which often included 
an art gallery and low-key concession area. In many cases, 
the art house eventually was transformed into the reper- 
tory theater, which thrived until the late 1980s, offering 
an array of feature films (sometimes programmed into 
mini-festivals centering on a particular director or genre): 
foreign art cinema, revivals of Hollywood classics, cult 
movies, rockumentaries, and new independent films. 

Among the most notable features of the repertory 
theater was the midnight movie. Midnight screenings, 
which were once principally "colored" shows or special 

premiere screenings, took on a much different flavor 
from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. The mid- 
night movie in these years was likely to be The Rocky 
Horror Picture Show (1975) or some other cult film, 
screened to a highly participatory audience of teenagers 
and college students. From its origins in New York City, 
the midnight movie spread nationwide, becoming a 
lucrative programming option, even for multiplexes 
housed in shopping malls. 


Early promotional efforts included colorful posters and 
banners that added to the already striking effect of what 
by the mid-1 9 10s had become a standard feature of the 
movie theater, the electrically illuminated marquee, 
which announced the current show. To complement 
newspaper advertising, exhibitors relied on a range of 
"ballyhoo," all designed to attract attention to the pro- 
gram and, more generally, to the theater itself: trucks 
with promotional displays, billboards, signs on streetcars, 
poster displays in store windows, sidewalk stunts. 




and — perhaps most memorable — extraordinarily elabo- 
rate facades constructed to match the film then being 
screened. In such instances, the front of the theater might 
be decorated to promote a jungle adventure one day and 
a prison melodrama the next. 

In addition to the promotion of individual films, 
exhibitors were frequently engaged in the ongoing pro- 
motion of their theaters, which often meant establishing 
and maintaining strong ties both to other local businesses 
and, more generally, to the home community. Thus a 
theater might put appliances and other products on dis- 
play in the lobby, arrange tie-ins with local merchants 
involving free movie tickets or product giveaways, or 
even offer free screenings sponsored by the Chamber of 
Commerce or the retail merchants' association. From the 
1910s through the 1940s theaters also developed com- 
munity relations by opening their doors for benefits, 
public interest programming, school events, patriotic 
drives, amateur shows, and even church services. 
Handbooks like Harold B. Franklin's Motion Picture 
Theater Management (1928) provided practical guidance 
about promotion and a range of other topics of concern 
to the theater manager. 

In an attempt to counter falling attendance during 
the early 1930s, exhibitors relied not only on advertising, 
but also on sometimes elaborate promotional contests 
designed to lure customers. These included the giving 
away of free "premiums," like glassware, fans, and cook- 
ing utensils, and contests that encouraged audience par- 
ticipation. Bingo-styled games like SCREEN-O games 
were common, as were "Bank Nights," perhaps the most 
widespread of these contests. Bank Night featured a 
drawing for a cash prize, which required that entrants 
register at the theater and that the winner be present at 
(though not necessarily inside) the theater when the 
winner was announced. 

Increasingly after the 1940s, theatrical promotion 
became less spectacular and more restricted to on-site 
posters and displays, which were part of national market- 
ing campaigns for individual films. By the 1970s, given 
the prominence of theater chains and the role of media 
advertising (eventually including the Internet as well as 
television and radio), there was no longer neither the 
incentive nor the need for individual exhibitors to come 
up with unique promotional schemes. 


From the late nineteenth century's traveling moving pic- 
ture shows to the late twentieth century's home theaters, 
films have been screened outside of movie theaters in a 
host of non-theatrical sites. Highly visible traveling 
exhibitors like Lyman H. Howe (1856-1923) had great 
success in this market between 1900 and 1915, offering 

ambitious film programs that involved elaborate sound 
effects. (In Europe, traveling moving picture shows were 
extremely common at fairgrounds.) As automobiles and 
expanded highway systems allowed for greater mobility, a 
host of other itinerant exhibitors brought moving pic- 
tures to rural audiences throughout the silent period and 
well into the 1940s. Traveling exhibition thrived in the 
Depression and World War II years, especially with the 
increased availability of highly portable 16mm sound 
projection equipment. At the same time, the non-theat- 
rical market also included individuals and companies 
(including government agencies like the United States 
Department of Agriculture) that sought to tap the vast 
interest in regularly exhibiting motion pictures at schools, 
churches, military bases, YMCAs, and retail stores. These 
non-theatrical exhibitors offered a variety of programs, 
some very similar to what was being screened in contem- 
porary theaters, others highly idiosyncratic and tailored 
to a particular audience. 

One other form of non-theatrical exhibition that has 
figured prominently in film history, particularly in terms 
of the creation of what might be called a cinema culture, 
is the non-profit film society. The film society, very 
much dedicated to promoting an appreciation of cinema, 
typically sold tickets by subscription and featured pre- 
cisely the sort of films that were not likely to be screened 
in mainstream commercial theaters: innovative alterna- 
tive cinema, foreign-language film, and older classics. 
(There was some significant overlap in this regard 
between the non-commercial film society and the com- 
mercial repertory cinema.) One model for the more than 
250 film societies that had emerged by 1960 was Amos 
Vogel's Cinema 16, which began in New York City in 
1947 screening a mix of experimental cinema, socially 
conscious documentaries, and international films. Film 
societies were often affiliated with a university, college, 
museum, or community arts center, where their actual 
screenings were held. 

The most significant development in non-theatrical 
film exhibition has been the shift to home viewing made 
possible by a host of different technologies: satellite and 
cable television, videocassettes, DVDs, and projection 
and sound equipment specifically designed for the 
domestic consumer. The home exhibition of film has 
been a viable option since the introduction of portable 
16mm equipment in the 1920s. However, it was not 
until the late 1980s that the home became the major site 
for film exhibition in the United States, a trend that was 
only reinforced by the subsequent introduction of digital 
cinema, available on DVD and the Internet. Given the 
ease and relatively low cost of watching movies at home, 
perhaps the most surprising fact about film exhibition in 
the 1990s is that theatrical attendance in the United 
States increased by one-third from 1985 to 2002, even 




as the total number of movie screens grew from a little 
over 20,000 in 1985 to more than 37,000 in 2000. 

SEE ALSO Distribution; Publicity and Promotion; Studio 
System; Television; Theaters 


Acland, Charles A. Screen Trajftc: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global 
Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003. 

Franklin, Harold B. Motion Picture Theater Management. New 
York: Doran, 1927. 

Gomery, Douglas. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie 
Presentation in the United States. Madison: University of 
Wisconsin Press, 1992. 

Huettig, Mae D. Economic Control of the Motion Picture Industry. 
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944. 

Hulfish, David S. Motion Picture Work: A General Treatise on 
Picture Taking, Picture Making Photo-Plays, and Theater 
Management and Operation. Chicago: American School of 
Correspondence, 1913. 

Klinger, Barbara. Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New 

Technologies, and the Home. Berkeley: University of CaUfornia 

Press, 2006. 

Musser, Charles with Carol Nelson. High-Class Moving Pictures: 
Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 
1880-1920. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. 

Ricketson, Frank H., Jr. The Management of Motion Picture 
Theatres. New York and London: McGraw-Hill, 1938. 

Schaefer, Eric. Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of 
Exploitation Film, 1919-1959. Durham, NC: Duke 
University Press, 1999. 

Stones, Barbara. America Goes to the Movies: 100 Years of Motion 
Picture Exhibition. North Hollywood, CA: National 
Association of Theatre Owners, 1993. 

Waller, Gregory A., ed. Moviegoing in America: A Sourcebook in 
the History of Film Exhibition. Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2002. 

Wilinsky, Barbara. Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House 
Cinema. Minneapohs: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. 

Gregory A. Waller 




Experimental films are very different from feature-length 
Hollywood fiction films. In Mothlight (1963), Stan 
Brakhage (1933-2003) completely avoids "normal" 
filmmaking (he doesn't even use a camera) by sprinkling 
seeds, grass, dead moths, and bee parts directly onto the 
film stock; the result is a three-minute rhythmic "dance" 
between nature and the projector mechanism. 

There are many types of experimental film, but 
despite their diversity, it is possible to pin down tenden- 
cies that help make experimental film a discrete genre. 
Edward Small identifies eight traits of experimental films 
and in the process defines important differences between 
the avant-garde and Hollywood. 

Most obviously, production is a collaborative enter- 
prise, but most experimental filmmakers conceive, shoot, 
and edit their films alone or with a minimal crew. Ofi:en 
they even assume the responsibility for the distribution of 
the finished film. It follows that experimental films are made 
outside of industry economics, with the filmmakers them- 
selves ofi:en paying for production (sometimes with money 
from small grants or the rentals on previous films). This 
low-budget approach buys independence: Maya Deren 
(1917—1961) bought an inexpensive 16mm Bolex camera 
with money she inherited after her father's death, and used 
this camera to make all of her films, forging a career com- 
pletely apart from the Hollywood mode of production. 

Unlike mainstream feature films, experimental 
works are usually short, oft:en under thirty minutes in 
length. This is in part because of their small budgets, 
though most filmmakers make short films for aesthetic 
reasons too: to capture a fleeting moment, perhaps, or to 
create new visuals with the camera. Ten Second Film 

(Bruce Conner, 1965) was originally shown at the 1965 
New York Film Festival, and all ten seconds were repro- 
duced in their entirety, as strips of film, on the festival's 
poster. Experimental filmmakers are usually the first to 
try out new ways of making movies, after which these 
technologies are adopted by Hollywood. Scott Bartlett's 
(1943-1990) films, such as OFFON (1967, with Tom 
DeWitt), were the first to mix computer and film 
imagery, and influenced Douglas Trumbull's (b. 1942) 
light show in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The reverse 
is also true: avant-garde filmmakers continue to use for- 
mats such as Pixelvision or 8mm long after the height of 
their popularity. Also like OFFON, experimental produc- 
tion often focuses on abstract imagery. The quintessential 
example is Stan Brakhage's notion of "closed-eye vision," 
the attempt to duplicate on film the shimmers of light we 
see on our eyelids when our eyes are closed. 

As Brakhage's films suggest, most experimental films 
avoid verbal communication, giving primacy to the vis- 
ual. Unlike "talkie" Hollywood movies, experimental 
films are typically silent, or use sound in nonnaturalistic 
ways. As well, experimental films typically ignore, sub- 
vert, or fragment the storytelling rules of Hollywood 
cinema. Some films — such as Harry Smith's (1923— 
1991) Early Abstractions (1939-1956) — abandon narra- 
tive altogether and focus instead on creating a colorful, 
ever-changing picture plane. When experimental films do 
settle down into a story, it's often one that shocks or 
disturbs conventional sensibilities. Sometimes their sub- 
ject is themselves and the medium of cinema. 

Many experimental films violate one or more of 
the above traits. Andy Warhol's (1928-1987) Empire 
(1964) is over eight hours long, and Peter Hutton's 



Experimental Film 


b. Eleanora Derenkowsky, Kiev, Russia, 29 April 1917, d. 13 October 1961 

One of the most important women in American 
experimental cinema, Maya Deren emigrated with her 
parents in 1922 to the United States, where Eleanora 
developed a keen interest in the arts that launched her into a 
varied early career, including a stint touring with Katherine 
Dunham's dance company. In 1941, while with the 
company in Los Angeles, she met and married filmmaker 
Alexander Hammid. In 1 943 Deren adopted the first name 
Maya (Hindu for "illusion") and made Meshes of the 
Afternoon, a psychodrama rife with symbolic, fascinating 
repetition that rejuvenated the American avant-garde. 

Deren's love of dance manifests itself in the films 
following Meshes. At Land (1944) is a dream of female 
empowerment that foregrounds Deren's own graceful 
movements, while A Study in Choreography for Camera 
(1945) is a portrait of dancer Talley Beatty as he moves 
from repose to a vigorous, ballet-like jump. Meshes, At 
Land, and A Study are unified by Deren's signature editing 
strategy: flowing motions that bridge abrupt cuts between 
different locales. In A Study, for instance, Beatty's single 
leap travels through a room, an art museum, against a 
backdrop of sky, and then ends in the woods, as he falls 
into a crouch and stops moving. 

The combination of real-life incident and artistic 
manipulation is, for Deren, the essence of cinema. In her 
essay "Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality" she 
argues that photography and cinema is the art of the 
"controlled accident," the "delicate balance" between 
spontaneity and deliberate design in art. Deren further 
extends the notion of the controlled accident to include 
those formal properties — slow-motion, negative images, 
disjunctive editing — that shape and alter the images of real 
life provided by the film camera. 

Deren's other films are the Meshes-\\\^e Ritual in 
Transfigured Time (1946), the dance film Meditation on 

Violence (1948), and The Very Eye of Night (1958). In 1946 
Deren divorced Alexander Hammid. In the late 1940s she 
became passionately interested in Haitian religion and 
dance, and traveled three times to Haiti to do research that 
resulted in the book Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of 
Haiti (1953) and hours of footage of Haitian rituals (some 
of which was edited into the video release Divine 
Horsemen). Deren became a legend in New York City's 
Greenwich Village, both for her practice of voodoo and for 
the assistance she provided to younger experimental 
filmmakers. The Creative Film Foundation (CFF) was 
founded by Deren to provide financial help to struggling 
filmmakers; Stan Brakhage, Stan Vanderbeek, Robert 
Breer, Shirley Clarke, and Carmen D'Avino received CFF 


Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944), A Study in 
Choreography for Camera (1945), Ritual in Transfigured 
Time (1946), Meditation on Violence (1948) 


Clark, VeVe, MiUicent Hodson, and Catrina Neiman. 

The Legend of Maya Deren: A Documentary Biography and 

Collected Works, vol. 1, part 1: Signatures (1917—42). 

New York: Anthology Film Archives/Film Culture, 1984. 
Clark, VeVe, MiUicent Hodson, and Catrina Neiman. 

The Legend of Maya Deren: A Documentary Biography 

and Collected Works, vol. 1, part 2: Chambers (1942—47). 

New York: Anthology Film Archives/Film Culture, 


Deren, Maya. "Cinematography: The Creative Use of 

Reality." Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy 
and Marshall Cohen, 187-198. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 2004. 

Nichols, Bill, ed. Maya Deren and the American Avant-Garde. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. 

Craig Fischer 

movies photograph nature in objective terms, avoiding 
the avant-garde tendency toward subjective psychology. 
The traits, though, provide a rough guide to the ways 
that experimental films differ from feature-length narra- 
tives, and provide an entrance into the history of the 


Many of the seminal texts of US experimental film 
history, such as P. Adams Sitney's Visionary Film, begin 
with a discussion of the production of Maya Deren's 
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). More recent scholarly 
work, however, has unearthed a vibrant post— World 



Experimental Film 

Maya Deren. EVERETT COLLECTION, reproduced by permission. 

War I avant-garde American film movement with roots 
in European art and culture. American artists such as 
Man Ray (1890-1976) and Dudley Murphy (1897- 
1968) lived in France and took inspiration from dadaism 
and surrealism in the 1920s; Ray made his first film, Le 
Retour a la raison (Return to Reason, 1923), for a famous 
dada soiree, and Murphy collaborated with Fernand 
Leger (1881-1955) on the surrealist Ballet mecanique 
(Mechanical ballet, 1924). Technological innovation. 

specifically Kodak's 1924 introduction of 16mm film 
and the user-friendly Cine- Kodak 16mm camera, helped 
to jump-start the 1920s avant-garde {Lovers of Cinema., 
p. 18). 

The creators in this first wave of experimental film- 
making came from different careers and interests. Elia 
Kazan (1909-2003), Orson Welles (1915-1985), and 
Gregg Toland (1904-1948) dabbled in the avant-garde, 
but achieved true success in mainstream film. Douglass 



Experimental Film 

Crockwell was a magazine illustrator of the Norman 
Rockwell school, but his Glens Falls Sequence (1934— 
1946) is an abstract dance of mutating shapes. Several film 
teachers and scholars (Theodore Huff, Lewis Jacobs, Jay 
Leyda) made avant-garde films too. Yet, despite these 
different backgrounds and motivations, most experimental 
film practitioners thought of themselves as amateurs rather 
than professional filmmakers, but the term "amateur" was 
praise rather than a pejorative, implying a commitment to 
art over commerce. The types of films by these "amateur" 
avant-gardists fall into distinct genres. Many made offbeat 
stories inspired by literary sources and cutting-edge art 
movements. James Sibley Watson, Jr. (1894-1982) and 
Melville Webber (1871-1947) invoke such sources as 
Edgar Allan Poe, German expressionism, and Old 
Testament narratives in The Fall of the House of Usher 
(1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933). Other films told stories 
that parodied film genres, such as Theodore Huff's first 
movie, Hearts of the West (1931), which features an all- 
children cast in a spoof of silent westerns. Filmmaker and 
artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) made collage films that 
turned Hollywood narratives into studies in surrealism. In 
Rose Hohart (1936), Cornell took footage from a Universal 
B movie that featured the contract player Rose Hobart, 
scored all of Hobart's actions to an old samba record, and 
projeaed the reedited footage through red-tinted lenses. 

Other filmmakers abandoned narrative. Paul Strand 
(1890-1976) and Charles Sheeler's (1883-1965) 
Manhatta (1921), the first avant-garde film produced in 
the United States, was the first "city symphony" film, a 
genre of associative documentaries that celebrate urban 
life and the machines of modernity. Other American 
examples of the genre include A Bronx Morning 0ay 
Leyda, 1931) and The Pursuit of Happiness (Rudy 
Burkhardt, 1940), but the most famous city symphony 
of all. The Man with the Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 
1929), was made in Soviet Russia. Another common type 
of nonnarrative documentary was the dance film; Hands 
(Stella Simon, 1926) and Introspection (Sara Arledge, 
1941—1946) use innovative form to capture bodies react- 
ing to music, and are clear inspirations for Maya Deren's 
work. Rhythms are at the center of both dance films and 
abstract films, those works that focus on unfamiliar 
objects and patterns. H20 (1929) by Ralph Steiner cata- 
logs how water reflects light in raindrops and rivers; the 
films of Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967), Mary Ann Bute, 
and Dwinell Grant are paintings in motion, dances of 
colors and shapes instead of the human body. 

There were four venues for the exhibition of early 
experimental film. In the United States, for example, the 
"little cinemas," the art theaters that emerged during the 
1920s and 1930s to program repertory classics and 
European fare, sometimes showed experimental shorts 
before their features. The Life and Death of 9413 — A 

Hollywood Extra (1928) was paired with a German/ 
Indian coproduction. Light of Asia (1926), at the 
Philadelphia Motion Picture Guild, and Roman 
Freulich's Prisoners (1934) was followed by Sweden, Land 
of the Vikings (1934) at the Little Theatre in Baltimore 
(Lovers of Cinema, p. 24). On occasion, avant-garde shorts 
were even on the same program as Hollywood features. Art 
galleries were another venue for experimental films, as 
were the screenings of the Workers Film and Photo 
League, a branch of the Communist Party that regularly 
exhibited nonmainstream films of all types. The most 
important exhibition space for the avant-garde during this 
period was provided by the Amateur Cinema League 
(ACL), founded in New York City in 1926. The ACL 
nationally distributed key avant-garde films, organized 
"ten best" contests for amateur filmmakers, and published 
extravagant praise for experimental work in the ACL mag- 
azine. Amateur Movie Makers. As Patricia Zimmerman 
points out, the activities of the ACL were just a small part 
of the amateur film phenomenon: "The New York Times 
speculated that that there were over one hundred thousand 
home moviemakers in 1937 and five hundred services for 
rental of films for home viewing" (Zimmerman in Horak, 
p. 143). No wonder experimental filmmakers from this 
period embraced the "amateur" label so readily. However, 
most of these activities vanished as the Depression ground 
on. Though several important experimental filmmakers — 
Arledge, Burkhardt, Cornell — began to make work in the 
second half of the 1930s, it would be another ten years 
before a new avant-garde generation would build systems 
of production, distribution, and exhibition that rivaled 
those of the amateur film movement. 


In the immediate postwar period, the most important 
exhibition space for experimental films were the cine 
clubs, organizations of film fans who would rent and 
discuss offbeat films. The first flowering of cine clubs 
occurred in France in the 1920s, as venues for the 
impressionist work of such avant-gardists as Germaine 
Dulac (1882-1942) and Jean Epstein (1897-1953). Luis 
Bunuel made Un Chien Andalou (1929) in collaboration 
with the painter Salvador Dali. Hans Richter, Viking 
Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger, Jon Jost, and Jean Cocteau 
are among the many other avant-garde filmmakers to 
work in Europe. 

In the United States, the first such club. Art in 
Cinema, whose screenings were helmed by Frank 
Stauffacher at the San Francisco Museum of Art, was 
estabUshed in 1 947. Staufl^acher helped Amos and Marcia 
Vogel start a club. Cinema 16, in New York City, and 
for sixteen years (1947-1963) the Vogels sponsored pro- 
grams that included experimental shorts such as Kenneth 



Experimental Film 

Gay iconography in Kenneth Anger's Fireworks (1947). 


Anger's (b. 1927) Fireworks (1947) and Bruce Conner's 
A Movie (1957) with documentaries, educational shorts, 
art films, and special events featuring speakers such as 
playwright Arthur Miller and Alfred Hitchcock. In 1950 
the Vogels also began to distribute experimental fdms 
around the country (primarily to colleges and other cine 
clubs) through Cinema 16. Although financial troubles 
forced the Vogels to shut down Cinema 16 in 1963, its 
effect was lasting and profound. 

Other exhibition spaces besides cine clubs included 
college classes, art galleries and museums, and bars. 
Occasionally, an entrepreneurial filmmaker might even 
screen in a mainstream theater. Between 1946 and 1949, 
for instance, Maya Deren rented the two-hundred-seat 
Provincetown Playhouse eight times for programs of her 
films. As opportunities for the exhibition of avant-garde 
films grew, trends began to form. Following Deren's 
example, several filmmakers in the immediate postwar 
period made surrealist, dream-inflected narratives. Sidney 
Peterson (1905-2000) and James Broughton (1913- 
1999) collaborated on The Potted Psalm (1946), a 
loose-limbed tale featuring gravestones, mannequins, 
and other irrational symbols. Peterson's subsequent films, 
such as The Cage (1947) and The Lead Shoes (1948), 

combine disturbing images with recursive narratives and 
compulsive repetition. Broughton made his first film. 
Mother's Day, in 1948, and across four decades of film- 
making his works shifted in emphasis from offbeat, erotic 
comedy to an unabashed celebration of gay sexuality. 
Willard Maas (1911-1971) was another practitioner of 
the postwar experimental narrative; his Geography of the 
Body (1946) turns close-ups of human anatomy into a 
travelogue of a surreal continent. For his first film, Stan 
Brakhage made Interim (1952), a romantic Derenesque 
narrative, but afterwards he quickly took off in new 

Animation was also a vibrant part of the postwar 
avant-garde. The most prolific avant-garde animator was 
Robert Breer (b. 1926), who between 1952 and 1970 
produced at least one film a year. James (1921-1982) and 
John Whitney (1917-1995) pioneered computer-gener- 
ated films, and their success gave them the opportunity to 
make cartoons for the mainstream UPA studio and to 
produce animated effects for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo 
(1958). Australian artist Len Lye (1901-1980) painted 
directly on the surface of the film strip in such films as 
A Colour Box (1935) and Free Radicals (1958). And Jordan 
Belson's (b. 1926) San Francisco light shows evolved into 
symmetrically patterned, Buddhist-influenced films such 
as Mandala (1953) anA Allures (1961). 

Several postwar filmmakers explored film form in 
ways different from animation. Bruce Conner began his 
career in the arts as a sculptor, but became famous as the 
conceptualizer-editor of a series of "found footage" films 
that edited previously shot footage into new and bizarre 
combinations. In A Movie, Conner subverts our cause- 
effect expectations (and makes us laugh) by juxtaposing, 
for example, a shot of a German soldier staring into a 
periscope with a picture of a girl wearing a bikini and 
staring into the camera. Other Conner films subject 
newly shot footage to unorthodox cutting: in Vivian 
(1963), Conner filmed his friend Vivian Kurz in various 
environments — in an art gallery, in her bedroom — and 
then edited the rolls into a kinetic flow of images that 
comments on the nature of photographic representation. 
Vivian has a pop music soundtrack — as do other Conner 
films, such as Cosmic Ray (1961) and Mongoloid 
(1978) — and Conner's synchronization of editing and 
musical rhythm is the origin of the music video. 

Marie Menken (1909-1970) used time-lapse pho- 
tography as the formal center of many of her films. 
A team player in the New York Underground — she 
worked on films by Warhol, Deren, and her husband, 
Willard Maas — Menken also crafted miniature movies 
that condense time. Moonplay (1962) is a collection of 
full moons photographed over the course of several years, 



Experimental Film 

b. Andrew Warhola, Forest City, Pennsylvania, 6 August 1928, d. 22 February 1987 

Probably the best-known American artist of the twentieth 
century, Andy Warhol studied commercial art at Carnegie 
Mellon University. In 1 949 he moved to New York City 
and carved out a career as an advertising artist. In the early 
1960s Warhol became a pioneer of pop art by creating 
paintings that showcased the most ubiquitous icons of 
American popular culture: Campbell's Soup cans, Brillo 
boxes, celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn 
Monroe. With his paintings and silkscreens in high 
demand, Warhol established the Factory, a workshop and 
hangout where he supervised "art workers" in the making 
of Warhol "originals." The subjects of his art were the 
mass media and mass production, and the art was created 
on the Factory's improvisational assembly line. 

A neglected aspect of Warhol's 1960s artistic 
production was his work in experimental film. Just as his 
graphic art used simplicity to challenge notions of "art," 
Warhol's avant-garde films embraced the realist aesthetic 
strategies of the putative fathers of cinema, Louis and 
Auguste Lumiere. Warhol returned to cinema's zero point 
by setting up a 16mm camera and encouraging the artsy 
types who inhabited the Factory to perform for the lens. 
Sometimes Warhol commissioned writers (most notably 
off-off-Broadway playwright Ronald Tavel) to provide 
screenplays, but usually the Factory crew filmed with just a 
central conceit — open to extended improvisation — as a 
rough guide. In Kiss (1963), Warhol showcased various 
couples (hetero- and homosexual) kissing, each for the 
three-minute length of the camera magazine; Sleep (1963) 
uses a few camera angles to photograph poet John 
Giorno's body as he slumbers. Warhol's films had a 
profound effect on avant-garde film practice of the 1960s, 
especially the decade's structural filmmakers. 

Warhol's movies of the mid-1960s built on the 
simple structures of his earlier work. Inner and Outer Space 

(1965) juxtaposes ghostly video images of Warhol 
"superstar" Edie Sedgwick with film footage of her 
commenting on her own video reflection, while Chelsea 
Girls (1966), which played commercially in New York 
City, uses two screens to depict the inhabitants of the 
Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. Warhol's epic was perhaps 
**** {Four Stars, 1966-1967), a twenry-five-hour 
explosion of superimpositions (two projectors fired 
footage simultaneously on the same screen) that was 
shown only once and then disassembled. 

After Warhol was shot and almost killed by Valerie 
Solanas in June 1968, he stopped making films. Instead, 
he farmed out the Factory's filmmaking activities to his 
protege, Paul Morrissey, who went on to direct several 
Warhol-influenced but more mainstream features, 
including Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), Heat (1972), 
Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), and Blood for Dracula 


Kiss (1963), Sleep (1963), Empire (1964), Poor Little Rich Girl 
(1965), My Hustler (1965), Chelsea Girls (1966), The 
Nude Restaurant (1967), Blue Movie (1969) 


Gidal, Peter. Andy Warhol: Films and Paintings. New York: 
Dutton, 1971. 

Koch, Stephen. Stargazer: Andy Warhol's World and His Films. 

2nd ed. New York: M. Boyars, 1985. 
Koestenbaum, Wayne. Andy Warhol. New York: Penguin, 


O'Pray, Michael, ed. Andy Warhol: Film Factory. London: 

British Film Institute, 1989. 
Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From AtoB& 

Back Again). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 


Craig Fischer 

while Menken herself described Go! Go! Go! (1962-1964) 
as "a time-lapse record of a day in the life of a city." 

Radical content as well as form was common in the 
postwar avant-garde, particularly fdms that addressed 
homosexual desire. Probably the most famous "queer" 
experimental filmmaker of this period is Kenneth Anger, 

who made the trailblazing Fireworks at the age of seven- 
teen. Fireworks is a melange of same-sex flirtation, sado- 
masochism, and sailors; the film's finale features a sailor 
lighting a Roman candle (firework) in his crotch. 
{Fireworks was shown several times at Cinema 16, often 
as part of a "Forbidden Films" program, and Amos 



Experimental Film 

Andy Warhol. PHOTO by rex features/everett 


Vogel also distributed Anger's work.) Anger's epic Scorpio 
Rising (1963) connects gay desire and satanism — for 
Anger (as for Jean Genet), being gay means repudiating 
traditional norms and embracing the subversive and dec- 
adent — and the film juxtaposes a chronicle of California 
biker culture with a pop-rock soundtrack in ways that, 
like Conner's works, anticipate music videos. Anger's 
films treat homosexuality as inherently transgressive; in 
contrast, many of Gregory Markopoulos's (1928-1992) 
works place same-sex desire in a classical context. The 
Iliac Passion (1967), for example, features several mem- 
bers of the 1960s New York gay demimonde — ^Andy 
Warhol, Jack Smith, Taylor Mead — cast as mythic char- 
acters such as Poseidon and Orpheus. Markopoulos also 
pioneered a single-frame, scattershot approach to editing 
that made his films tightly wound, dense fabrics of allu- 
sions, classical and otherwise. 

As Markopoulos explored the deep connections 
between sexuality and myth. Jack Smith turned popular 
culture into his own queer playground. Soon afiier meet- 
ing experimental filmmakers Ken Jacobs (b. 1933) and 
Bob Fleischner in a film class at the City College of New 
York in 1956, Smith collaborated with Jacobs on a series 

of films — including Star Spangled to Death (1958/2004) 
and Little Stabs at Happiness (1959) — that ditch plot and 
instead allow Smith to improvise personas for the cam- 
era. Both the charm and narcissism of this approach finds 
its perfect expression in Jacobs, Fleischner, and Smith's 
Blonde Cobra (1963), where Smith delivers a monologue 
to his image in a mirror. After a falling out with Jacobs, 
Smith directed several films himself, the most notorious 
being Flaming Creatures (1963), a mad chronicle of a 
pansexual orgy, complete with simulated rape and faux- 
earthquake, that was declared obscene in New York 
Criminal Court. Even while Smith worked on such films 
as the unfinished Normal Love (begun 1964) and No 
President (1968), he increasingly shifted his energies to 
performance art, letting his love of Z-grade Hollywood 
stars (especially the beloved Maria Montez) and radical 
politics run rampant in theater pieces, slide shows, and 
"expanded cinema" experiences such as / Was a Male 
Yvonne de Carlo for the Lucky Landlord Underground 

THE 1960s 

The 1960s deserves its own subsection primarily because 
of Andy Warhol, who began making 16mm long-take, 
quotidian extravaganzas in 1963, and whose popularity 
throughout the decade brought visibility to experimental 
films as a whole. In addition, the rise of a leftist counter- 
culture during the decade and the increased distribution 
of nonmainstream movies led to an exponential increase 
in the number of artists who made avant-garde films 
during this time. Among the most important filmmakers 
of the era were Bruce Baillie (b. 1931), Ken Jacobs, the 
Kuchar brothers (George, b. 1942, and Mike, b. 1942), 
Robert Nelson, Stan Vanderbeek (1927-1984), Michael 
Snow (b. 1929), and Joyce Wieland (1931-1998). 
However, much of the credit for the explosion of crea- 
tivity in the 1960s in the United States belongs to Jonas 
Mekas (b. 1922). 

Born in Lithuania, Mekas published several books of 
poetry and literary sketches — and spent time in forced- 
labor and displaced-persons camps during World War 
II — before he and his brother Adolfas emigrated to the 
United States in 1949. He quickly became a fixture at 
Cinema 16, where he shot footage that would later 
appear in his diary film Lost Lost Lost (1975). In 
January 1955 he began Film Culture, "America's 
Independent Motion Picture Magazine," whose early 
topics included classical Hollywood filmmaking (the 
journal published Andrew Sarris's first articles on auteur- 
ism), the international art cinema, and Mekas's own 
criticism. Within a few years, Film Culture's focus zeroed 
in on the avant-garde and Mekas became experimental 
film's hardest working promoter. 



Experimental Film 

In the 1960s his weekly "Movie Journal" column in the 

Village Voice publicized experimental filmmakers and the 
events where their films could be seen, and Mekas himself 
was one of these filmmakers: his feature Guns of the Trees 
(codirected by Adolfas) was released in 1961, his film docu- 
ment of the play The Brig in 1964, and his first ambitious 
diaristic film, Walden, in 1969. In 1964 he organized the 
Film-Makers' Cinematheque, a venue for US avant-garde 
film that provocatively overlapped with vanguard artists in 
other fields as well. With Shirley Clarke (1919-1997) and 
Lionel Rogosin (1924-2000), Mekas started the Film- 
Makers' Distribution Center, a distribution exchange that 
he hoped would supply an ever-expanding circuit of theaters 
with experimental work. Although both the Cinematheque 
and Distribution Center failed, Mekas established 
Anthology Film Archives in 1970, a museum/theater/pres- 
ervation complex devoted to experimental films. Although 
various controversies have erupted throughout its history — 
most notably, perhaps, around its attempt to establish a hst 
of canonical "essential" films that would be in permanent 
repertory — Anthology endures to this day, a tribute to 
Mekas's commitment to the avant-garde. 

Perhaps Mekas's most unusual contribution to 

experimental film exhibition was the midnight movie. 
Mekas's midnight screenings at Manhattan's Charles 
Theatre between 1961 and 1963 followed an open-mic 
structure: audience members either paid admission or 
brought a reel of film to show, and Mekas supplemented 
these submissions with works by Markopoulos, Menken, 
Jacobs, and others. Later in the decade, entrepreneur 
Mike Getz resurrected the midnight movie model when 
he used family connections to begin Underground 
Cinema 12. Getz's uncle, Louis Sher, was the owner of 
a chain of Midwest art cinemas, and Getz persuaded Sher 
to exhibit midnight programs of avant-garde shorts at 
many of these theaters. Underground Cinema 12 
brought experimental film out of its centers in New 
York City and San Francisco and gave it exposure else- 
where in the country. In 1 967, for instance, in the college 
town of Champaign, Illinois, viewers had the opportu- 
nity to see Conner's A Movie, Vanderbeek's Breathdeath 
(1964), Peyote Queen (Storm De Hirsch, 1965), and Sins 
of the Fleshapoids (Mike Kuchar, 1965) at Sher's local art 
theater. Mekas's Charles screenings and Getz's 



Experimental Film 

Underground Cinema 12 were important precursors to 
the 1970s midnight movie experience as it coalesced 
around cuk films such as The Rocky Horror Picture 
Show (1975) and Eraserhead (1977). 

Mekas's nurturing of the avant-garde led to an explo- 
sion of experimental auteurs. In such works as Mass for 
the Dakota Sioux (1963-1964) and Quick Billy (1967- 
1970), Bruce Baillie welds his love for the West with a 
poetic, Brakhage-inspired spontaneity. In his best-known 
fdm, Castro Street (1966), Baillie, who also cofounded 
in 1961 Canyon Cinema, an exhibition program that 
evolved into the biggest distributor of experimental films 
in the United States, uses multiple superimpositions to 
celebrate his beloved San Francisco neighborhood; All 
My Life (1966) consists of a single three-minute shot (a 
track along a picket fence that ends with a pan up to the 
sky) that captures the ravishing light in a California 
backyard. After collaborating with Jack Smith, Ken 
Jacobs made a number of avant-garde films, including 
Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (1969). Subsequently, Jacobs 
began researching optical effects and illusions, which 
resulted in his "Nervous System" performances, improv- 
isations where Jacobs "plays" two projectors in ways that 
display how various properties of the film medium 
(flicker, lenses, projection) can mold and alter images. 
The Kuchar brothers, George and Mike, grew up in the 
Bronx, and as teenagers used an 8mm camera to shoot 
their own tawdry versions of Hollywood melodramas. 
They then showed tiny epics such as / Was a Teenage 
Rumpot (1960) and Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof (1961) at 
open screenings for amateur filmmakers, where they gar- 
nered attention from the avant-garde. Later films jumped 
up to 16mm, but their movies remained campy, unpro- 
fessional, rude, and thoroughly hypnotic, implicit sub- 
versions of Hollywood standards of "quality." After the 
mid-1960s the brothers worked separately, and Mike has 
made few films since. George has remained astonishingly 
prolific, producing films and videotapes at the rate of at 
least two a year. 

The profane jokester of the 1960s avant-garde explo- 
sion, Robert Nelson first courted controversy with Oh 
Dem Watermelons (1965), his second film, a chaotic mix 
of gags and images involving melons accompanied in part 
by a racist Stephen Foster soundtrack. Nelson's tour de 
force. Bleu Shut (1970), functions as both a ruthless 
parody of structural film and a perfect example of 
Nelson's tendency to pack his films with crazed digres- 
sions and absurd asides. Best known as a performance 
artist, Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939) made several influ- 
ential autobiographical avant-garde movies, including 
Fuses (1967), a portrait of Schneemann's sex life with 
composer James Tenney, for which Brakhage inspired 
Schneemann to paint and scratch directly on the footage 
to capture the joy and energy of lovemaking. While 

studying filmmaking at New York University, Warren 
Sonbert (1947-1995) shot a number of short diary 
films — including Where Did Our Love Go? (1966), Hall 
of Mirrors (1966), and The Bad and the Beautiful 
(1967) — that combine pop music soundtracks with can- 
did footage of such 1960s Manhattan scenemakers as 
Rene Ricard and Gerald Malanga. With The Carriage 
Trade (1971), Sonbert shifted into a more rigorous type 
of filmmaking based on silence, extremely brief shots, 
and graphic contrasts. Sonbert's later films, such as 
Divided Loyalties (1978) and Honor and Obey (1988), 
use this rigorous form to create portraits of a world full of 
alienation and sorrow. Sonbert died of AIDS in 1995. 
Stan Vanderbeek pioneered the use of computer imagery, 
collage animation, and compilation filmmaking. Terry 
Gilliam's cutout animation for Monty Python's Flying 
Circus was inspired by Vanderbeek's Science Friction 
(1959), and many of Vanderbeek's earliest films were 
political satires in collage form. In the late 1960s 
Vanderbeek collaborated with Kenneth Knowlton of 
Bell Telephone Laboratories to make some of the first 
computer-generated films, and built an avant-garde 
movie theater, the Movie Drome of Stony Point, New 
York, that was equipped to properly present his own 
multiprojector works. 

In Canada, painter Joyce Wieland (1931-1998) also 
made films with a dry wit that anticipates many struc- 
tural films. Rat Life and Diet in North America (1968) 
juxtaposes footage of mice with a narrated soundtrack 
that defines the rodents as heroes of a narrative about 
political oppression and liberation. After making two 
avant-garde films — La Liaison avant la passion {Reason 
Over Passion, 1968-1969) and Pierre Vallieres (1972) — 
devoted to Canadian issues, Wieland reached out to a 
larger audience with her narrative feminist feature The 
Far Shore (1976). 

During this period, many challenging experimental 
films were made outside the United States. From the 
1930s to the 1980s, Norman McLaren (1914-1987) 
produced playful animated and live-action shorts for 
Canada's National Film Board. French philosopher 
Guy Debord made several films — including Sur le passage 
de quelques personnes a travers une assez courte unite de 
temps {On the Passage of a Few People through a Rather 
Brief Period in Time, 1959) and Critique de la separation 
{Critique of Separation, 1961) — designed to vex conven- 
tional audience expectation and dissect mass media 
manipulation. In Japan, Takahito limura (b. 1937) 
began a series of scandalous shorts with Ai {Love, 1962). 


In the late 1960s experimental film headed in a new 
aesthetic direction. In an article published in Film 



Experimental Film 

Culture in 1969, critic P. Adams Simey defined the struc- 
turalist film as a "tight nexus of content, a shape designed 
to explore the facets of the material" {Film Culture Reader, 
p. 327), which becomes clear when these films are com- 
pared with previous avant-garde traditions. In the films of 
lyricists such as Brakhage and Baillie, rhythm is dependent 
on what is being photographed, or on the associations 
possible through manipulations of form. In Window 
Water Baby Moving (1962), for example, Brakhage's quick 
cuts fragment time and connect his wife Jane's pregnant 
stomach to the birth of their daughter. In contrast, struc- 
turalist films don't have "rhythms" as much as they do 
systems that, in Sitney's words, render content "minimal 
and subsidiary to the outiine" {Film Culture Reader, 
p. 327). Watching a structuralist film, then, is a little like 
watching a chain of dominoes: after the first domino 
tumbles, our attention is on how the overall organization 
plays out rather than on the individual dominoes. Sitney 
considers such Andy Warhol Factory films as Sleep (1963) 
and Eat (1963) to be important precursors of structural 
film, particularly because of their reliance on improvisa- 
tory performance and fixed camera positions. Later in the 
decade, other avant-garde filmmakers turned to structural 
film. Michael Snow's influential Wavelength (1967) is 
organized around a forty-five-minute zoom that moves 
from a wide shot of a New York loft to a close-up of a 
picture of ocean waves on the loft's farthest wall. Snow 
continued to explore reframing with Back and Forth 
(1969), a shot of a classroom photographed by a camera 
that pans with ever-increasing speed, and La Region cen- 
trale (The Central Region, 1971), a portrait of a northern 
Quebec landscape photographed by a machine that runs 
through a series of automated circular pans. 

Critic David James has isolated the origin of struc- 
tural film in the "radical film reductions" of the 1960s 
Fluxus art movement: works such as Nam June Paik's 
(1932-2006) Zen for Film (1964) — a projection of 
nothing but a bright, empty surface, occasionally punc- 
tuated by scratches and dirt — points to a cinema pre- 
occupied with its own formal properties. Fluxus films, 
and the structuralist movies they spawned, explore the 
material nature of film as a medium and the various 
phases of the production process. For example, Peter 
Kubelka's (b. 1934) Arnulf Rainer (1958-1960) and 
Tony Conrad's The Flicker (1966) consist solely of 
alternating black-and-white frames of various lengths 
to explore the optical effects of flicker. Paul Sharits's 
(1943-1993) Ray Gun Virus (1966) and S:TREAM:S: 
color, emulsion scratches, and even portraits of faces 
to rapid-fire flicker. The distortion of space through 
changes in lens focal length is the subject of Ernie 
Gehr's (b. 1943) Serene Velocity (1970), which juxta- 
poses long shots of an empty corridor with shots 

of the same hallway while the camera zooms in. Larry 
Gottheim's Barn Rushes (1971) explores the nature of 
filmic representation and duplication by photographing 
a landscape under different light conditions and with 
different film stocks. J. J. Murphy's Print Generation 
(1973—1974) subjects a one-minute piece of film to 
fifty duplications, and the process renders the footage 
abstract and unintelligible. (Murphy also distorts sound, 
and one twist of Print Generation is that as the image 
distorts, the sound becomes clearer, and vice versa.) In 
Britain, Malcolm le Grice and Peter Gidal, and in 
Germany Wilhelm and Birgit Hein, also worked in this 

The graininess and dirtiness of the film image 
is considered in Film in Which There Appear Edge 
Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. (Owen 
Land, 1966), which offers a starring role to one of 
cinema's most ignored performers: the "Chinagirl" that 
lab workers would use to check the quality of a print. 
Ken Jacobs's Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (1969) analyzes a 
1905 short of the same name by speeding up and rewind- 
ing the original footage, and by zooming in on portions 
of the mise-en-scene to such a magnified degree that 
details become grainy abstractions and blobs of light. 
The nature of projection itself is the subject of Line 
Describing a Cone (Anthony McCall, 1973), which 
requires an audience to stand in a gallery space and watch 
a projector throw a light beam that gradually (over a half- 
hour) changes shape into a cone. 

The most important structuralist filmmaker is HoUis 
Frampton (1936-1984), who began his career with a series 
of films that explore minimalist elements. Manual of Arms 
(1966) organizes portraits of New York artists into a rigid 
grid structure, and Lemon (1969) subjects the fruit to a 
series of ever-shifting lighting designs. Frampton's vision 
expanded and deepened with Zorns Lemma (1970), which 
was strongly influenced by the animal locomotion studies 
of proto-filmmaker Eadweard Muybridge. The seven-film 
series Hapax Legomena (1971-1972) is Frampton's Ulysses, 
a compendium of formal innovations that, at its most 
accomplished — as in part 1, Nostalgia (1971) — is both 
intelleaually and emotionally moving. Frampton died in 
1984 at age forty-eight, having spent the last decade of his 
life on the unfinished epic Magellan (1972-1980), frag- 
ments of which (particularly Gloria! [1979]) function as 
stand-alone films. 

Structuralist film was influential enough to spread to 
many different countries. Filmmakers such as Malcolm 
Le Grice and Peter Gidal congregated at the London 
Film Makers' Cooperative to screen their structuralist 
works and debate the future of the avant-garde, while 
in France, Rose Lowder began a series of I6mm loops 



Experimental Film 

b. Kansas City, Missouri, 14 January 1933, d. 9 March 2003 

The most prolific and influential experimental filmmaker 
in US film history, Stan Brakhage also wrote insightfijUy 
about his own films and the work of other filmmakers. 
The most oft-quoted passage in experimental film 
criticism is the opening of Brakhage's text Metaphors on 
Vision (1963): "Imagine an eye unruled by man-made 
laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional 
logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of 
everything but which must know each object encountered 
in life through an adventure of perception." This passage 
explicates the major aesthetic strain in Brakhage's films: 
abstraction. From the beginning of his career, Brakhage 
combined the photographic image with marks and paint 
applied directly onto the filmstrip, and many of his films 
of the 1980s and 1990s are completely abstract, partly for 
financial reasons and partly because he believed in the 
liberating power of nonlinear, nonnarrative aesthetic 
experiences. Some of Brakhage's abstract "adventures in 
perception" are Eye Myth (1967), The Text of Light 
(1974), The Dante Quartet (1987), and Black Ice (1994). 

Brakhage briefly attended Dartmouth College on a 
scholarship, but he found academia so uncongenial that he 
had a nervous breakdown, left school, and spent four years 
traveling and living in San Francisco and New York. 
During this period Brakhage made his earliest films, 
including psychodramas such as Interim (1952) and 
Desistfilm (1954). 

While making Anticipation of the Night (1958), 
which he intended to end with footage of his suicide, he 
fell in love with and married Jane CoUom. Stan and Jane 
remained married for twenty-nine years, and a major 
subgenre of Brakhage's work chronicles the rise and fall 
of this marriage, from domestic quarrels {Wedlock House: 

An Intercourse, 1959) and the birth of children {Window 
Water Baby Moving, 1959) to Brakhage's increasing 
estrangement from Jane and his teenage children 
{Tortured Dust, 1984). Many critics consider Brakhage's 
singular achievement to be Dog Star Man (1962—1964), 
a four-part epic that uses multiple superimpositions to 
connect the activities of his family (then living a back-to- 
the-land existence in rural Colorado) to myth and the 
rhythms of nature. 

In 1996 Brakhage was diagnosed with cancer, which 
might have been caused by the dyes he had used to paint 
on film. His last works include the live-action self-portrait 
Stan's Window (2003), and Chinese Series (2003), a film 
Brakhage made on his deathbed by using his fingernail to 
etch dancing white marks into black film emulsion. 


The Wonder Ring (1955), Reflections on Black (1955), 
Anticipation of the Night (1958), Window Water Baby 
Moving (1959), Mothlight (1963), Dog Star Man 
(1962—1964), The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes 
(1971), The Text of Light (1974), Murder Psalm (1980), 
The Loom (1986), Commingled Containers (1996) 


Brakhage, Stan. Essential Brakhage: Selected Writings on Eilm- 
Making. New York: McPherson, 2001 

James, David E., ed. Stan Brakhage: Filmmaker. Philadelphia: 

Temple University Press, 2005. 
Sitney, P.Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 

1942-2000. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 


"Stan Brakhage: Correspondences." Chicago Review 47/48, 
nos. 4/1 (Winter 2001-Spring 2002): 11-30. 

Craig Fischer 

that explored frame-by-frame transitions and their effects 
on audiences. 

Yet the structural film movement was essentially over 
by the mid-1970s. Structuralist films were triumphs of 
formal design, but a new generation of leftist experimen- 
tal artists criticized the apolitical nature of films such as 
Wavelength and Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, and began to 
make movies with ideological content that tackled social 

issues such as feminism and colonialism. Yet, reverbera- 
tions of structuralist film continue into later avant-garde 
film. Sink or Swim (Su Friedrich, 1990) follows a 
Zorns Lemma— like alphabetical structure, while Teatro 
Amazonas (Sharon Lockhart, 1999) is a witty commen- 
tary on cultural colonialism and a stylish update of 
Standish Lawder's structuralist Necrology (1971), a one- 
shot film of people on an escalator projected backwards. 



But structuralist filmmakers realized that cinema's formal 
properties could do more than just tell stories, and made 
artworks that revealed to us that sometimes a zoom can 
be more than just a zoom, that it can embody nothing 
less than a way of seeing. 

Another important wave in 1970s experimental film, 
roughly concurrent with structuralist film, was the rise of 
the "new talkies," feature-length works influenced by 
critical theory and the politicized art films of Jean-Luc 
Godard (b. 1930), Jean-Marie Straub (b. 1933), and 
Daniele Huillet (b. 1936). Although most experimental 
films are short, the feature-length experimental film has a 
long pedigree. During the 1950s and 1960s, as Deren 
and Brakhage were making their influential short films, 
other avant-gardists dabbled in longer, more narrative 
forms. Ron Rice's (1935-1964) Beat-saturated The 
Flower Thief {I960) and The Queen of Sheba Meets the 
Atom Man (1963) are feature-length showcases for actor 
Taylor Mead's inspired improvisations, while Warhol's 
1960s films were often longer than most Hollywood 
films. Some, such as Chelsea Girls (1966), ran in first- 
run mainstream movie theaters. 

The feature-length new talkies that emerged in the 
1970s were a more specific type of avant-garde genre. 

The new talkies are typified by an engagement with 
critical theory and a return to storytelling, albeit to 
deconstruct storytelling as a signifying practice. (Many 
new talkies are simultaneously narratives and essays on 
narrative.) These traits are clear in the quintessential new 
talkie, Laura Mulvey (b. 1941) and Peter WoUen's 
(b. 1938) Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), which tells the 
story of Louise, a woman who talks with coworkers about 
childcare and decides to move from a house to an apart- 
ment. Sphinxs form owes much to Godard, but its 
narrative is something new: an attempt to capture the 
life of a woman without recourse to genre, "erotica," or 
the male gaze. 

Other key new talkie auteurs are Yvonne Rainer 
(b. 1934) and Trinh T. Minh-ha (b. 1953). Rainer began 
her career in dance, bringing aesthetic and political rad- 
icalism to the performances she orchestrated as part of 
the Judson Dance Theater. Her movies such as Film 
About a Woman Who . . . (1974) and Privilege (1990) 
form a kind of spiritual autobiography, tackling various 
subjects as Rainer herself goes through a lifetime of 
experiences and observations. Shot through all these films 
is Rainer's belief in everyday life as a site of political 
struggle, showing how the personal is always political. 



Experimental Film 

Trinh T. Minh-ha's own multicultural background — she 
has lived in France, the United States, and West Africa — 
informs Reassemblage (1982), Naked Spaces — Living Is 
Round (1985), and Surname Viet Given Name Nam 
(1989). These fdms renounce traditional narrative and 
documentary forms, and search for avant-garde ways of 
representing people of different societies (including 
Senegal, Mauritania, Burkino Faso, and Vietnam) to 
First World audiences. But Minh-ha's recent career 
reveals the difficulty of sustaining new talkie practices 
in today's film culture. In his seminal essay "The Two 
Avant-Gardes," Peter WoUen argues that the politicized 
Godardian art film and the formalist experimental film 
were the twin poles of 1960s cinematic radicalism, and 
that the new talkies can be understood as an attempt 
to bring these poles together {Readings and Writings, 
pp. 92-104). Yet, since the 1960s, art cinema has shifi:ed 
decisively away from radical politics, while experimental 
cinema has exploded into a multiplicity of approaches, 
some formal in emphasis and some not. 

One mutation in experimental film occurred in the 

late 1970s and early 1980s, when a group of New York 
artists made films that emulated the do-it-yourself aes- 
thetics and catchy nihilism of early punk rock. Made in 
8mm on miniscule budgets, these films rejected both 
Hollywood norms and the pretensions of the more for- 
malist tendency in experimental film. Although this 
movement went by various names ("new cinema," "no 
wave cinema"), "cinema of transgression" is the most 
common because of its defining use in Nick Zedd's 
infamous "The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto" 
(1985), which begins with a denunciation of the "laziness 
known as structuralism" and the work of "profoundly 
undeserving non-talents like Brakhage, Snow, Frampton, 
Gehr, Breer, etc." and a celebration of films that directly 
attack "every value system known to man" (p. 40). Like 
most manifestoes, Zedd's "Transgression" slays the father 
and claims a complete break with an outmoded past. But 
many of the cinema of transgression films were, in 
essence, exhibitions of scandalous behavior, and are log- 
ical descendants of an experimental film tradition that 
includes Kurt Kren's (1929-1998) material action shorts 
of the 1960s and Vito Acconci's (b. 1940) early 1970s 
8mm performance documentaries (which record Acconci 
plastering up his anus and crushing cockroaches on his 
body). One significant difference between these precur- 
sors and the cinema of transgression is venue: BCren's and 
Acconci's works were screened in film societies and art 
galleries, while the transgression films were shown mosdy 
in New York City punk bars. 

Although Zedd's manifesto was clearly an act of 
publicity-seeking hyperbole, the cinema of transgression 
delivered, throughout the 1980s, a robust wave of avant- 
garde filmmakers and films. In several works made 

between 1978 and 1981 {GueriUere Talks [1978], 
Beauty Becomes the Beast [1979], and Liberty's Booty 
[1980]), Vivienne Dick combined documentary inter- 
views, melodramatic narratives, and a jittery camera style 
perfectly suited to low-fi 8mm. Beth and Scott B.'s Black 
Box (1978) is a stroboscopic aural assault that treats its 
spectators like tortured prisoners. Other important trans- 
gressors include Richard Kern, Alyce Wittenstein, 
Cassandra Stark, Eric Mitchell, Kembra Pfahler, James 
Nares, and Zedd himself, whose affinity for over-the-top 
parody is present in his films from Geek Maggot Bingo 
(1983), a send-up of cheesy B-movie horror, to the video 
spoof The Lord of the Cockrings (2002). Several factors, 
including the steady gentrification of New York City's 
Lower East Side and the spread of AIDS, ended the 
cinema of transgression. Yet the films of many contem- 
porary avant-gardists, including Peggy Ahwesh, Jon 
Moritsugu, Luther Price, and Martha Colburn, bear the 
influence of the transgression example. 


According to many critics, the experimental film world 
went through a period of flagging energy and diminished 
creativity during the 1980s. Among the reasons, according 
to Paul Arthur, were the skyrocketing costs of 16mm 
processing, cutbacks in government and private-foundation 
funding, and the economic and aesthetic challenges posed 
by video. By the 1990s, however, it was clear that the 
movement had undergone a resurgence. Older figures such 
as Brakh^e, Mekas, and Jacobs remained active, and a 
new generation of artists, aesthetic trends, and exhibition 
strategies emerged. 

One such trend in contemporary experimental pro- 
duction is the use of "outdated" formats. Sadie Benning 
(b. 1973), the daughter of filmmaker James Benning 
(b. 1942), shot ghostly autobiographical movies like If 
Every Girl Had a Diary (1990) and It Wasn't Love (1992) 
with the Pixelvision-2000, a black-and-white toy video 
camera that records small, blurry images on audio cas- 
sette tape. The Pixelvision camera was only available 
from 1987 to 1989, but the work of Sadie Benning and 
other filmmakers 0oe Gibbons, Michael Almereyda, 
Peggy Ahwesh, Eric Saks) have kept Pixelvision alive. 
Many avant-gardists have continued to use both regular 
8mm and super-8mm, and are passionate about the 
aesthetic qualities of small-gauge filmmaking. Perhaps 
the ultimate validation of human-scale small-gauge film- 
making was the exhibition "Big as Life: An American 
History of 8mm Films," which exhibited small-gauge 
works by Conner, Brakhage, Wieland, and many others 
at both New York's Museum of Modern Art and the San 
Francisco Cinematheque from 1998 to 1999. 



Experimental Film 

Museum retrospectives such as the "Big as Life" 
program are an important part of experimental film 
distribution, but the real screening innovation of the 
last decade were microcinemas — small theaters run by 
dedicated filmmakers and tans as showcases for non- 
mainstream work. Total Mobile Home Microcinema, 
the first contemporary microcinema, was established in 
1993 by Rebecca Barton and David Sherman in the 
basement of their San Francisco apartment building, 
and by the late 1990s, at least a hundred had sprung 
up in various cities around the United States. Some of 
the highest-profile microcinemas include Greenwich 
Village's Robert Beck Memorial Cinema, begun by 
filmmakers Bradley Eros and Brian Frye; San 
Francisco's Other Cinema, curated by master coUagist 
Craig Baldwin; and the Aurora Picture Show, Andrea 
Grover's microcinema, housed in a converted church in 
Houston. Perhaps the microcinema with the most 
ambitious programming was Blinding Light (1998- 
2003), a one-hundred-seat, six-night-a-week theater in 

The New York Film Festival's "Views from the 
Avant-Garde," founded by critic Mark McEllhatten and 
Film Comment editor Gavin Smith in 1997, is an annual 
cross-section of the experimental film world. The con- 
tinued activity of established venues such as Anthology 
Film Archives, Chicago Filmmakers, and the San 
Francisco Cinematheque, coupled with the rise of micro- 
cinemas and touring programs such as John Columbus's 
Black Maria Film and Video Festival and the 
MadCatFilm Festival, have made it somewhat easier to 
see experimental films, a trend pushed even further by 
the more recent ability to download films from Internet 
sites such as 

SEE ALSO Animation; Surrealism; Video 


Arthur, Paul. A Line of Sight: American Avant-Garde Film Since 
1965. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. 

Dixon, Wheeler Winston. The Exploding Eye: A Re-Visionary 
History of 1960s American Experimental Cinema. Ithaca: State 

University of New York Press, 1998. 

Horak, Jan-Christopher, ed. Lovers of Cinema: The First American 
Film Avant-Garde, 1919-1945. Madison: University of 
Wisconsin Press, 1995. 

James, David E. Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties. 
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. 

Le Grice, Malcolm. Abstract Film and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: 
MIT Press, 1977. 

MacDonald, Scott. Cinema 16: Documents Toward a Flistory of 
the Film Society. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002. 

. A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent 

Filmmakers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. 

Posner, Bruce, ed. Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde 
Film, 1893-1941. New York: Anthology Film Archives, 

Rabinovitz, Lauren. Points of Resistance: Women, Power, and 
Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema, 1943—1971. 
2nd ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003. 

Rees, A. L. A Flistory of Experimental Film and Video. London: 
British Film Institute, 1999. 

Sitney, P. Adams, ed. Film Culture Reader. 2nd ed. New York: 
Cooper Square Publishers, 2000. 

Small, Edward S. Direct Theory: Experimental Film/Video as 
Major Genre. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 

WoUen, Peter. "The Two Avant-Gardes." Readings and Writings: 
Semiotic Counter-Strategies, 92—104. London: Verso, 1982. 

Zedd, Nick. 'The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto." Film 
Threat Video Guide 5 (1992): 40. 

Craig Fischer 




Exploitation movies have been a part of the motion 
picture industry since its earliest days. The term "exploi- 
tation movie" initially referred to any film that required 
exploitation or ballyhoo over and above the usual posters, 
trailers, and newspaper advertising. Originally this 
included films on risque topics, documentaries, and even 
religious films. But by the 1930s it referred specifically to 
low-budget movies that emphasized sex, violence, or 
some other form of spectacle in favor over coherent 

Exploitation films grew out of a series of sex hygiene 
films that were made prior to and during World War I in 
an effort to stave the scourge of venereal diseases. Using 
movies as a modern educational tool to convey the dan- 
gers of the diseases and their potential treatments, movies 
like Damaged Goods (1914) drove home a moralistic 
message about remaining clean for family and country. 
Following the war several films commissioned by the 
government for use in training camps were released to 
the general public. Fit to Win (1919) and The End of the 
Road (1918) did not have the same level of moralizing of 
pre-war films, but they did include graphic clinical foot- 
age in many situations. These elements left the films 
open to severe cuts or outright bans by state and munic- 
ipal censorship boards. In 1921 a meeting of top motion 
picture directors adopted a self-regulatory code. The 
Thirteen Points and Standards, that condemned the pro- 
duction of movies that were susceptible to censorship. 
Sex hygiene, white slavery, drug use, vice, and nudity led 
the list of disapproved topics. The same topics were 
among the list of forbidden subjects of the MPPDA's 
"Don'ts and Be Carefuls" when it was approved in 1927 
and the Production Code when it was written in 1930. 

With a collection of salacious topics off-limits to main- 
stream moviemakers, low-budget entrepreneurs quickly 
moved in to fill the gap and reap the profits. Just as the 
bizarre sights of the sideshow had been segregated from 
the big top in the circus, the subjects of exploitation films 
were shunted aside by the mainstream movie industry. 


From the late teens through the late 1950s classical exploi- 
tation films operated in the shadow of the classical 
Hollywood cinema. The men that made and distributed 
exploitation films were sometimes called "the Forty 
Thieves," and several came from carnival backgrounds. 
Some companies were fly-by-night outfits that produced a 
film or two and then disappeared. However, many individ- 
uals and companies were around for years: Samuel 
Cummins (1895-1967) operated as Public Welfare 
Pictures and Jewel Productions; Dwain Esper (1892- 
1982) used the Road Show Attractions name; J. D. Kendis 
(1886-1957) made films under the Continental and Jay 
Dee Kay banners; Willis Kent's (1878—1966) companies 
included Real Life Dramas and True Life Photoplays; and 
Louis Sonney's Sonney Amusement Enterprises dominated 
West Coast distribution. 

Exploitation movies were invariably low budget — 
usually made for far less than the average B movie. Most 
exploitation films were made for under $25,000 and 
some for as little as S5,000. Shooting schedules were less 
than a week, with some films being shot in as little as two 
or three days. (Unlike B movies, which were used to fill 
out the bottom half of a double feature, exploitation 
films were often expected to stand on their own.) Their 



Exploitation Films 

low budgets and accelerated shooting schedules meant 
that exploitation films featured stilted performances, 
poor photography, confusing plots, and startling gaps in 
continuity. On almost every level they were bad films. 
Many of these movies have a delirious quality, shifting 
between long passages of expository dialogue and confus- 
ing action. But what they lacked in narrative coherence 
they made up for by offering audiences moments of 
spectacle that could not be found in mainstream movies. 
That spectacle might come in the shape of scenes in a 
nudist camp, footage of childbirth or the effects of vene- 
real diseases, prostitutes lounging around in their under- 
wear, or women performing striptease dances. These 
scenes of spectacle often brought the creaky narrative to 
a grinding halt, allowing the viewers to drink in the 
forbidden sights. As a result of such scenes exploitation 
movies were always advertised for "adults only." 

In addition to the forbidden sights on the screen, 
exhibitors were often provided with elaborate, garish 
lobby displays. Sex hygiene films could be accompanied 
by wax casts showing the process of gestation and birth or 
the effects of VD. Drug movies came with displays of 
drug paraphernalia. In many instances the films were 
accompanied by lectures, which were little more than 
excuses to pitch books on the subject of the film. For a 
dollar or two the audience could buy booklets with titles 
like "The Digest of Hygiene for Mother and Daughter." 
Pitchbooks provided an additional source of income to 
the distributor. 

A small core of urban skid row grindhouses played 
exploitation films constandy. But the best market for 
these films consisted of regular theaters, in cities or small 
towns, that periodically took a break from Hollywood 
product to play a racy — and profitable — exploitation 
movie. The movies cloaked their suggestive stories and 
images in the mantle of education. Almost all exploita- 
tion films began with a square-up — a brief prefatory 
statement that explained the necessity of showing a par- 
ticular evil in order to educate the public about it. Given 
the difficulty of getting information on such issues as 
childbirth and birth control, some of the movies did have 
a legitimate educational component. But they were pro- 
duced primarily to make a buck. Exploitation movies 
were often available in "hot" and "cold" versions to 
accommodate local censorship or taste, and to extend 
the potential of pocketing that buck. And if audiences 
did not get the spectacle that they had been led to believe 
they would see from the lurid advertising, a roadshow- 
man could always throw on a "square-up reel" of nudist 
camp footage or a striptease dance to sate the crowd. 

Because only a handful of prints of any film circu- 
lated around the country at any one time, many classical 
exploitation films were in release for decades. It was a 

common practice to re-title a film to extend its life on the 
road; some movies were known by as many as five or six 
titles over time. Among the perennial hits on the exploi- 
tation circuit were sex hygiene movies such as The Road 
to Ruin (1934) and Damaged Goods (1937); drug movies 
like Marihuana (1936), The Pace That Kills (1935), and 
She Shoulda Said No (1949); vice films such as Gambling 
with Souls (1936) and Slaves in Bondage (1937); nudist 
movies like Elysia, the Valley of the Nude (1933) and The 
Unashamed (1938); and exotic movies (often featuring 
nearly naked natives) such as Virgins of Bali (1932) or 
Jaws of the Jungle (1936). 

The most successful exploitation film of the classical 
era was Mom and Dad (1944). Producer Kroger Babb 
(1906-1980) had toured with earlier sex hygiene films 
and in 1944 decided to make a more up-to-date film. 
The story of a high school girl who discovers that she is 
"in trouble," Mom and Dad included films within it that 
showed childbirth, a Caesarian operation, and venereal 
diseases and their treatment. Babb sold the film aggres- 
sively and at one point afi:er World War II he had more 
than twenty units on the road with the film, each with its 
own "Elliott Forbes," an "eminent hygiene commenta- 
tor" who provided the lecture and book pitch. Millions 
of men, women, and teenagers saw Mom and Dad and it 
soon had competition from several direct imitations: The 
Story of Bob and Sally (1948), Because of Eve (1948), and 
Street Corner (1948). Eventually the owners of the four 
films joined together in a consortium to distribute the 
movies in a way that minimized direct conflict. Mom and 
Dad was still playing drive-in dates into the 1 970s and 
some estimates have placed its total gross over the years at 
$100 million. But as the 1950s progressed, the 
Production Code was relaxed and many of the old topics 
that had been grist for exploitation movies — drug use, 
unwed motherhood — were folded back into the list of 
acceptable subjects for Hollywood films. 


The post- World War II years saw the continued produc- 
tion and rerelease of classical exploitation films. But other 
types of exploitation movies were on the horizon. 
Following on the heels of the Supreme Court's 
Paramount decision (1948) and declining output from 
the majors, American theaters were forced into bitter 
competition for product during the 1950s. Hungry the- 
ater owners had to look beyond the majors for movies to 
light up their screens. James H. Nicholson (1916-1972) 
and Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001) founded American 
Releasing Corporation in 1954, soon changed to 
American International Pictures (AIP). AIP specialized 
in making cheap genre pictures geared toward the grow- 
ing youth market and oftien developed a colorfiil title and 



Exploitation Films 

b. Roger William Gorman, Detroit, Michigan, 5 April 1926 

Roger Gorman has been a major force in exploitation 
filmmaking for half a century. His career spans an era 
from the earliest days of American International Pictures 
(AIP) in the mid-1950s through the exploitation golden 
age to the rise of home video. 

While in his teens Gorman moved with his family to 
Los Angeles, where he developed an interest in the motion 
picture industry. Following a stint in the Navy, he 
completed his engineering degree at Stanford, then broke 
into the film business by selling a script. He soon signed a 
three-picture deal with the newly formed AIP. Producing 
and directing all his films, Gorman worked in a variety of 
genres, although his science fiction films are the most 
fondly remembered. Some of those films, such as Attack of 
Crab Monsters (1957), Not of This Earth (1957), and X: 
The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), feature genuinely 
chilling moments despite their low budgets. The Little 
Shop of Horrors (1960), a horror-comedy about a ravenous 
plant, developed a cult following because of its quirky 
humor and legendary status as a film shot in just two days. 
During that same year Gorman and AIP initiated a series 
of bigger-budget, widescreen, color adaptations of the 
works of Edgar Allan Poe, many featuring Vincent Price. 
House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), 
and The Masque of the Red Death (1964) established him 
as a director of considerable style. Some critics have 
ascribed an apocalyptic vision to Gorman, and many of his 
films he directed begin or end with some sort of 
cataclysmic event. 

Gorman continued to look to hot-button issues to 
exploit, including integration in the South with The 
Intruder (1962), one of his few financial failures. For The 
Wild Angels (1966) he worked with members of The Hell's 
Angels, and prior to his film about the drug culture. The 
Trip (1967), Gorman experimented with LSD. Both films 
initiated long-lived exploitation cycles. 

In 1970 Gorman broke with AIP to form New World 
Pictures. Its first effort. The Student Nurses (1970), 
established the company formula: R-rated nudity and sex, 
action, some laughs, and a slightly left-of-center political 
stance. New World's brand of exploitation films became 
drive-in staples for more than a decade, during which 
Gorman discovered, or gave a major boost to, a number of 
filmmakers such as James Gameron, Joe Dante, Jonathan 
Demme, Ron Howard, Gale Ann Hurd, and Martin 
Scorsese. In an effort to diversify. New World also 
distributed several European art films, including works by 
Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. 

Gorman sold New World in 1983 and formed 
Goncorde-New Horizons. As theaters increasingly booked 
big-budget blockbusters, Gorman has concentrated on 
making exploitation movies — many remakes of his earlier 
hits — for cable television and the direct-to-video market. 


Not of This Earth (1957), Teenage Doll (1957), House of Usher 
(1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Intruder 
(1962), The Wild Angels (1966), The Trip (1967) 


Gorman, Roger, with Jim Jerome. How I Made a Hundred 

Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. New York: 

Random House, 1990. 
Frank, Alan. The Pilms of Roger Corman: "Shooting My Way 

Out of Trouble. " New York: Batsford, 1998. 
Gray, Beverly. Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of 

the Godfather ofLndie Filmmaking. Los Angeles: 

Renaissance Books, 2000. 
McGee, Mark Thomas. Roger Corman: The Best of the Cheap 

Acts. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1988. 

Morris, Gary. Roger Corman. Boston: Twayne, 1985. 

Will, David, and Paul WiUeman, eds. Roger Corman. 
Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Film Festival, 1970. 

Eric Schaefer 

eye-catching advertising for a film long before a script 
was written. AIP offered favorable terms to exhibitors, 
and many theater owners found that the prepackaged 
AIP double bills brought in more money than major 
studio releases. Working with producers like Roger 

Corman (b. 1926) and Herman Cohen (1925-2002), 
AIP released dozens of low-budget films with titles like 
Day the World Ended (1956), / Was a Teenage Werewolf 
(1957), Dragstrip Girl (1957), Reform School Girl (1957), 
and High School Hell Cats (1958). The term exploitation 



Exploitation Films 

Roger Carman with machine gun on the set of Bloody Mama (1970). EVERETT collection. REPRODUCED by permission. 

film was expanded to encompass diese "teenpics" and 
virtually any ultra-low-budget movie. Throughout the 
1960s AlP was always on the cutting edge of exploita- 
tion: The Wild Angels (1966) initiated a long string of 
nihilistic biker films and movies such as Riot on Sunset 
Strip (1967), The Trip (1967), znA Psych-Out that 
explored the blossoming counterculture. 

Budget and content were not the only markers of 
what constituted an exploitation movie. In the late 1950s 
former B-movie director William Castle (1914-1977) 
produced a series of fairly conventional chillers that grad- 
uated to exploitation status through their use of elaborate 
exploitation gimmicks to secure an audience. Macabre 
(1958) promised to insure the lives of all ticket buyers 
for $ 1 ,000 against death by fright. The House on Haunted 
Hill (1959) featured "Emerge" (a plastic skeleton that 
swung out over the audience at an appointed time during 
the film). And in what was perhaps Castle's most auda- 

cious gimmick. The Tingler (1959) was presented in 
"Percepto," with some seats in theaters wired to give 
select audience members a mild electric shock. 

Other theaters hungry for product turned to art 
films — foreign films sold as a highbrow alternative to 
Hollywood fare. But many of these films also approached 
sex and nudity in a franker fashion than mainstream 
movies. The term "art film" became synonymous with 
nudity for a large segment of American audiences. One 
film was most responsible for cementing this equivalence 
in the minds of the public — Et Dieu . . . crea la femme 
{And God Created Woman, 1956) by Roger Vadim 
(1928-2000). The film, with its nude shots of French 
sex kitten Brigitte Bardot (b. 1934), played in both art 
houses and the existing exploitation theaters. Films 
imported by Radley Metzger's (b. 1929) Audubon in 
the early 1960s, such as Les Collegiennes {The Twilight 
Girls, 1957) and Nuit la plus longue {Sexus, 1964), 



Exploitation Films 

capitalized on a similar dual market. While they had a 
patina of art films as a result of their foreign — usually 
French — origin, they also included racy inserts, filmed by 
Metzger in New York, that made them marketable as sex 
exploitation, or sexploitation as it came to be known, as 

American-made films capitalized on this hunger for 
racy fare by continuing a tradition of adults-only movies. 
With the first generation of exploitation producers retir- 
ing or dying, new filmmakers moved in to take their 
place with movies that approached sex in a more direct 
fashion and without pretense to education. In 1959 
cheesecake photographer Russ Meyer (1922-2004) made 
The Immoral Mr. Teas. The film, about a deliveryman 
who can see through women's clothes, spawned dozens of 
so-called nudie-cuties — a filmic equivalent to Playboy 
magazine. Although the nudity in the films was only 
above the waist and from the rear, films such as The 
Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961), Mr. Peter's Pets 
(1962), and Tonight for Sure (1962) — directed by a 
young Francis Ford Coppola (b. 1939) — were extremely 
popular with their predominantly male clientele. 

Sexploitation films were soon pushing into new ter- 
ritory with a series of black-and-white psychosexual 
dramas. Some, such as The Defilers (1965), were similar 
to the lurid paperbacks that crowded the shelves of bus 
stations. Others, hke Sin in the Suburbs (1964), directed 
by the prolific Joe Sarno (b. 1921), made a more sincere 
effort to blend drama with sex. Hundreds of sexploitation 
movies were made or imported over the ensuing decade 
with companies such as AFD (American Film 
Distributing Corp.), International, Cambist, Distribpix, 
and Mitam releasing dozens of films. Several distinct sub- 
genres developed. Among the most popular were those 
about bored housewives and sexually frustrated commut- 
ers, and exposes about changing morals and sexual prac- 
tices, including The Sexploiters (1965), Moonlighting 
Wives (1966), and The Commuter Game (1969). Some 
films featured heavy doses of sadomasochism, like the 
series about the sadistic Olga, initiated with White Slaves 
of Chinatown (1964). Other movies operated as thrillers 
about the dangers of the urban environment such as 
Aroused (1966) and To Turn a Trick (1967). Rural or 
hillbilly movies such as Country Cuzzins (1970), Sassy Sue 
(1972), and The Pigkeeper's Daughter (1972) were popu- 
lar, as were films set on college campuses like Campus 
Swingers (1972). By the late 1960s some exploitation 
movies, notably Meyer's Vixen (1968) and several of 
Metzger's films, were achieving play dates in showcase 
cinemas in major cities. 

In 1963, successful nudie producer David F. 
Friedman (b. 1923) and director Herschell Gordon 
Lewis (b. 1926) cast about for a genre in which they 

would have less competition. They settled on gore. Blood 
Feast (1963) was a grand guignol farce about a cannibal- 
istic caterer in Florida who disembowels his victims and 
lops off their limbs. The Eastmancolor effects seemed 
remarkably realistic at the time and moviegoers chal- 
lenged themselves and their stomachs to sit through the 
film. Although gore had occasionally been a form of 
spectacle in classical exploitation films, the unblinking 
violence of Blood Feast elevated the gore film to a whole 
new subgenre of exploitation, populated by machete- 
wielding maniacs, bloodthirsty butchers, and flesh-eating 
zombies. Around the same time the Italian-produced 
Mondo Cane (1962) was released. The "shockumentary" 
combined real and staged footage of bizarre, violent, and 
erotic behavior in the human and animal worlds. It was 
followed by a parade of other "mondo movies" that 
blurred the line between authenticity and fakery. 

In the climate of auteurism of the 1960s and early 

1970s several sexploitation filmmakers were singled out 
for their distinctive styles. Topping the list was Meyer, 
whose sharp cinematography and rapid-fire editing made 
his tales of amply proportioned yet sexually frustrated 
women and their square-jawed, dimwitted men instantly 
recognizable. Metzger's films were slick, languid exercises 
in European eroticism, exemplified by Carmen, Baby 
(1967) and Camille 2000 (1969). Companies often 
developed distinct niches. Friedman's Entertainment 
Ventures turned out amusingly leering genre send-ups: 
Space Thing (1968) lampooned science fiction, Thar She 
Blows (1969) played with sea story conventions. Trader 
Hornee (1970) roasted the jungle adventure. Robert 
Cresse's (1936-1998) Olympic International was known 
for making and distributing films that focused on sadism 
such as Love Camp 7 (1968) and LJot Spur (1968). More 
recently other filmmakers have received attention, includ- 
ing Michael and Roberta Findlay, who made a series of 
grim, gritty films that fetishized torture and degradation. 
Andy Milligan's (1929-1991) movies, such as Vapors 
(1965), The Degenerates (1967), and Fleshpot on 42nd 
Street (1972), became an outlet for his personal demons. 
And Doris Wishman (1920—2002) is recognized for her 
films like Bad Girls Go to LLell (1965) and Double Agent 
73 (1974), which feature her quirky mise-en-scene that 
concentrates as much on set decor, shoes, and pigeons 
strutting in the park as it does on characters. 

Although sexploitation films saw some decline in 
business as hard-core pornographic features began to 
achieve public exhibition in 1 970, other types of exploita- 
tion movies continued to thrive. In 1970 Corman formed 
New World Pictures, which produced and distributed a 
variety of exploitation films, often featuring the adven- 
tures, sexual and otherwise, of assertive career women, 
such as Private Duty Nurses (1971), The Student Teachers 
(1973), and Cover Girl Models (1975). Women in prison 



Exploitation Films 

films became another staple at New World with The Big 
Doll House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), and Caged 
Heat (1974), direaed by Jonathan Demme (b. 1944). 
Crown International, Dimension, Group 1, Hemisphere 
Pictures, Independent International, Monarch, and a long 
list of other companies cranked out similar films that 
combined nudity, sexual situations, violence, and some 
laughs for drive-ins around the country. 

Among the theaters most consistently in need of 
product were inner-city movie houses. In 1971 Sweet 
Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song by Melvin Van Peebles 
(b. 1932) launched the "blaxploitation" cycle. Most of 
the films featured black charaaers, usually in an urban 
environment, battling for independence, against injustices, 
or for a good score — and always with a hefty dose of 
violence and skin. Although the major studios contributed 
films like Shaft (1971) and Superjly (1972), it was AIP, 
New World, and other exploitation companies that 
milked the cycle with Slaughter (1972), Blacula (1972), 

The Mack (1973), Hell Up in Harlem (1973), and Black 
Mama, White Mama (1972), among others. Among the 
most popular films were those staring the beautifiil but 
tough Pam Grier, including Cofty (1973), Foxy Brown 
(1974), and Friday Foster (1975). 


Exploitation films had always found success in the aisles 
of struggling theaters. By the 1980s the marginal exhibi- 
tion sites that had sustained exploitation movies were 
disappearing. Crumbling inner-city movie palaces gave 
way to urban renewal projects. Neighborhood theaters 
were bulldozed for parking lots and acres of suburban 
drive-ins were converted to shopping malls as the number 
of drive-ins in the US dropped from more than 3,000 in 
1980 to fewer than 1,000 in 1990. Exploitation movies 
were less desirable in a new era of saturation bookings, 
national advertising campaigns, and blockbuster films. 
However, they have not entirely disappeared. 



Exploitation Films 

Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz's Troma, Fred 
Olen Ray's American Independent Productions, and 
Gorman's Corcorde-New Horizons initially concentrated 
on theatrical releases. But by the late 1980s video and cable 
television proved to be greener pastures and theatrical 
releases became token efforts. Full Moon Entertainment, 
Tempe Entertainment, Seduction Cinema, and other com- 
panies were formed specifically to make films for the 
direct-to-video market. Most of these companies 
depended on the loyalty of the fans of low-budget genre 
films, whether horror, science fiction, splatter, or erotic 
thrillers. Fans have gotten into the act as well, picking up 
cameras and making their own films, hawked in the pages 
of fanzines, at conventions, and on the Internet. Other 
entrepreneurs, who scour old film depots and vaults, have 
released hundreds of old exploitation movies to new gen- 
erations on videotape and DVD. It would appear that as 
long as audiences will search for a cheap thrill, there will be 
exploitation movies available to satisfy their demand. 

SEE ALSO Art Cinema; B Movies; Exhibition; 
Pornography; Publicity and Promotion 


Arkoff, Sam, with Richard Trubo. Flying Through Hollywood by 
the Seat of My Pants: Prom the Man Who Brought You I Was a 

Teenage Werewolf and Muscle Beach Party. Secaucus, NJ: 
Carol Publishing, 1992. 

Frasier, David K. Russ Meyer — The Lfe and Films: A Biography 
and a Comprehensive, Illustrated, and Annotated Filmography 
and Bibliography. Jefiferson, NC: McFarland, 1990. 

Friedman, David F., with Don De Nevi. A Youth in Babylon: 
Confessions of a Trash-Film King. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus 
Books, 1990. 

McDonough, Jimmy. The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore 
Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. Chicago: A 
Cappella Books, 2001. 

Mulier, Eddie, and Daniel Paris, Grindhouse: The Forbidden 
World of "Adults Only" Cinema. New York: St. Martin's 
Griffin, 1996. 

Ray, Fred Olen. The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as 
Distributors. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991. 

Schaefer, Eric. Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of 
Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Durham, NC: Duke 
University Press, 1999. 

Turan, Kenneth, and Stephen F. Zito, Sinema: American 
Pornographic Films and the People Who Make Them. New 
York: Praeger, 1974. 

Vale, v., and Andrea Juno, eds. Incredibly Strange Films. San 
Francisco: RE/Search Publications, 1986. 

Eric Schaefer 




The term expressionism has been abused by previous gen- 
erations of film scholars to such a point that the word has 
become virtually meaningless. Expressionism in its most 
narrowly defined meaning has referred to a specific group 
of six or seven modernist art films produced in Weimar 
Germany between 1920 and 1924, while in its broadest 
sense it has been utilized as a catchall term to define any 
film or style in the history of cinema opposed to realism 
or attempting to convey strong emotions. Between these 
extremes, expressionism has connoted all of German 
cinema in the 1 920s, and has been invoked in connection 
with American horror films produced by Universal 
Studios in the 1930s and American film noir in the 
1940s. Most problematically, its usage has often failed 
to specify whether its referent is a film movement, an 
ideology, a film style, or a film design (strictly speaking, 
art direction). Both the legitimate and some of the less 
credible usages of the term and their origins are examined 


According to Rudolf Kurtz (1884-1960), one of the 
earliest historical commentators on the movement called 
expressionism, the semantic instability of Expressionismus 
was already inherent in its first usage by a group of visual 
artists in imperial Germany prior to World War I. Those 
painters, associated with the German modern art groups 
Der blaue Reiter ("the Blue Rider," Munich) and Die 
Briicke ("the Bridge," Berhn/Dresden), coined the term 
in opposition to French impressionism, rejecting the 
notion of the artist as a receptacle for impressions of 
the moment. The Bridge (1905-1913) included painters 
such as Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Ernst Kirchner (1880- 

1938), and Erich Heckel (1883-1944), while the Blue 
Rider (1911-1914) was associated with Alexei von 
Jawlensky (1864-1941), Wassily Kandinsky (1866- 
1944), Gabrielle Munter (1877-1962), Franz Marc 
(1880-1916), and Paul Klee (1879-1940). They favored 
the concept of the artist as an active creator through will 
power, as a producer of visual images reflecting interior 
states rather than surface reality. In contrast to the pale 
pastels of impressionism, the expressionists favored broad 
brush strokes and rich, dense hues, which were applied 
without regard to the natural look of the object depicted. 
Thus, the reproduction of a photographic impression of 
reality was rejected, supplanted by the artist's subjective 
vision of the world. Kurtz allied German art expression- 
ism with both the cubism of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) 
and the Russian constructivist art of Aleksandr 
Archipenko (1887-1964) and Kasimir Malevich (1878- 
1935), while seeing the wildly saturated portraits of 
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and the South Sea 
paintings of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) as precursors. 
With the painter George Grosz (1893-1959), expression- 
ism also took on an overt political, even revolutionary 
tone, attacking postwar social conditions and calculated 
to shock bourgeois sensibilities mired in "archaic" forms 
of realism. In other words, expressionism began more as 
an attitude and ideology than as a style, since strong 
vibrant color and an interest in painting as an artistic 
medium rather than as a window onto the world was 
perhaps the only common denominator of these artists. 

This fact becomes clear when looking at German 
expressionist literature, where the term became a revolu- 
tionary cry for poets and dramatists such as Georg Kaiser 
(1878-1945), Ernst Toller (1893-1939), Georg TraU 




b. Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz, Rorschach, Switzerland, 23 July 1884, 

d. 2 January 1950 

One of the most famous German film actors, Emil Jannings 
is the one most closely associated with German expressionist 
aaing, although he was never connected to expressionist 
theater. He became a household name in Hollywood in the 
late 1920s, and was a key figure in the Nazi cinema. 

Jannings's breakthrough role was in Ernst Lubitsch's 
Madame Dubarry (1919), in which he played Pola Negri's 
doomed lover, Louis XV. Overweight and hardly an image 
of beauty, Jannings nevertheless conveyed a strong sexuality 
and jozV de vivre, making him an international star when the 
film became a hit in the United States as Passion in 1920. In 
the following years Jannings appeared in such classics as 
Anna Boleyn (1920), Danton (1921), Peter der Grosse {Peter 
the Great, 1922), and Paul Leni's Das Wachsfigurenkabinett 
{Waxworks, 1923). In these and other films he was typecast 
in the role of a despotic ruler, his large girth and coarse 
features underlining his usually horrific actions. With a 
strong tendency to chew up the scenery, Jannings finest 
hour probably was as Mephisto in F. W. Murnau's Faust 
(1926), which, along with his signature role as the demoted 
hotel doorman in Murnau's Der Letzte Mann { The Last 
Laugh, 1924), solidified his reputation as an actor forever 
associated with German expressionism. And while his 
performances in these films displayed the expressionist 
tendency toward stylized gesture and facial expressions, his 
role as the jealous acrobat in Variete {Variety, 1925) was 
much more realistic. As in Last Laugh, Jannings here made 
himself a sympathetic character verging on the tragic. 

Jannings subsequently accepted an invitation by 
Paramount to go to Hollywood, where he played similarly 

tragic characters in The Way of All Flesh (1927) and The 
Last Command (1928), winning the first Oscar® for best 
actor in both roles. Jannings then returned to Berlin, 
where he starred in Der Blaue Engel ( The Blue Angel, 
1930), but Marlene Dietrich stole the show, sending his 
career into eclipse. 

He made his comeback in the Nazified German film 
industry after 1933 with the role of Wilhelm the Elector 
(Frederick the Great's father) in Alte und der junge Konig 
{The Making of a King, 1935). Thereafter, he regularly 
played great men as paradigmatic fiihrer figures in a series 
of biopics with strong propagandistic content: Der 
Herrscher (The Ruler, 1937), Robert Koch (1939), Ohm 
Kriiger (1941), and especially as Bismark in Die Entlassung 
{The Dismissal, 1942). He also repeated a role he had 
performed countless times onstage, that of the village 
judge in Der zerbrochene Krug {The Broken Jug, Yi'il). His 
last film remained uncompleted in January 1945. 


Madame Dubarry {Passion, 1920), Der Letzte Mann {The Last 
Laugh, 1924), Faust (1926), Der Blaue Engel {The Blue 
Angel, 1930), Der zerbrochene Krug {The Broken Jug, 


Dreyer, Carl. "Sur un film de Jannings," and "Du jeu de 
I'acteur." Cahiers du Cinema (January 1962). 

Truscott, Harold. "Emil Jannings — ^A Personal View." Silent 
Picture 8 (1970): 5-26. 

Jan-Christopher Horak 

(1887-1914), and Gottfried Benn (1886-1956). 
Produced as a reaction to the insanity of World War I 
and the realist aesthetic of nineteenth-century naturalism, 
the poetry of August Stramm (1874-1915), for example, 
was considered by traditionalists to be the stammering of 
an insane person, while Kaiser's dramas were perceived to 
be part and parcel to a generational revolt against the old 
order. Kasimir Edschmid may have best summarized the 
attitude of the expressionist artist when he wrote: "He 
doesn't see, he looks. He doesn't describe, he experiences. 
He doesn't reproduce, he shapes. He doesn't take, he 

searches. No more chains of facts: factories, houses, ill- 
nesses, whores, screaming and hunger. Now we have 
visions of those things" (quoted in Kurtz, p. 17). 

German expressionist writers and painters found 
common ground in the theater, creating dramatic spaces 
through abstract set designs that attempted neither to 
reproduce the real world nor to function as mirrors of 
psychological states; the plays themselves were fdled with 
angry young men and vitriolic attacks on middle-class 
sensibilities. It was not, as some have argued, German 
theatrical impresario Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) who 




Emil Jannings in The Patriot (Ernst Lubitsch, 1928). 


led the way, but rather theatre director Karlheinz 
Martin (1886-1948) at Die Tribune, whose stagings 
of Ernst Toller's "Transfiguration" (1919) and Walter 
Hasenclever's "The Decision" (1919) scandalized and 
revolutionized Weimar theater. Not only were abstract 
sets utilized, created out of painted murals and light, but 
also the acting was highly stylized, with actors' bodies 
contorted to complement the wild diagonals of the stage 
and their voices eschewing normal patterns of speech. 
These stagings were also a product of material shortages 
due to the war and its aftermath, and audiences experi- 
enced color, light, and sound in new ways that mirrored 
the alienation of the postwar generation. Bertolt Brecht's 
(1898-1956) early play Baal (1918), whose Sturm and 
Drang hero is fiercely antibourgeois, is typical of how 
Weimar theater mirrored the political chaos in the streets 
of Berlin, where revolutions and counterrevolutions 
passed with amazing rapidity. 

Das Kahinett des Dr. Caligari {The Cabinet of 
Dr. Caligari, 1920) remains the signature work of 
German film expressionism. Produced at the Decla 
Studios in Berlin by Erich Pommer (1889-1966) (who 
soon aftier became production head at Universum Film 

Aktiengesellschaft [Ufa], Germany's largest film com- 
bine), Caligari featured painted sets by Hermann Warm 
and Walter Rohrig that opposed the general trend 
toward film realism by highlighting their artificiality, 
becoming visual equivalents of the twisted and tortured 
interior states of the mad Dr. Caligari (Emil Jannings) 
and his puppet, the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt). 
While lighting is a key formal element in most definitions 
of expressionism, Caligari, like subsequent expressionist 
films, relied on flat lighting to capture the highlights and 
shadows painted directly on the sets. Carl Mayer (1894— 
1944) and Hans Janowitz (1890-1954), the film's script- 
writers, later claimed that the film's revolutionary message 
was diluted by the film's producers, who decided to 
present the frame story in a realistic set, thus transforming 
the narrative vision of a society in chaos to the solitary 
ranting of a madman. In fact, though, the film's use of 
expressionist elements is consistent, down to the intertitles 
and even the advertising campaign, while the film's pro- 
duction history remains as convoluted as the various 
participants taking credit for its success. In any case, the 
film was an immediate box-office hit, both in Germany, 
where it opened in February 1920, and internationally. 
The French even coined the term caligarisme to denote 
expressionism, while American filmmakers and critics 
who saw the film afiier it opened in the United States in 
March 1921 enthusiastically embraced the notion that 
cinema could indeed be a high art and not just a base 
form of entertainment for the masses. 

While no one associated with German expressionist 

art or theater had been directly involved in the making of 
Caligari, the artists who produced another film. Von 
morgens bis Mittemacht {From Mom to Midnight, 1920), 
were conscious of bringing an expressionist aesthetic to 
the cinema. The film's director, Karl Heinz Martin 
(1886-1948), the set designer, Robert Neppach 
(b. 1890), and the writer, Georg Kaiser, whose play was 
adapted, all had worked at Die Tribune, and many critics 
consider their film to be the most consistently expression- 
ist of the films of the period. In the film, a lowly bank 
teller embezzles funds after seeing a beautiful woman, his 
flight from bourgeois existence ending in suicide. But 
Von morgens bis Mittemacht apparently never opened in 
Germany, despite the efforts of a distributor to sell it 
through trade advertisements; it only became widely 
known after a print was discovered in Tokyo in the 
1960s. Like Caligari, Martin's film featured highly styl- 
ized, hand-painted sets that seemingly collapsed space; 
light painted on the props and costumes; and expression- 
istic acting that bordered on the seemingly catatonic. 

Meanwhile, Pommer, Carl Mayer, and Robert 
Wiene followed up Caligari with another film in the 
expressionist style. Genuine (1920), featuring fancifully 
painted sets and outrageous costumes by the well-known 




Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920) is the signature work of German expressionism. 

expressionist artist Cesar Klein (1876-1954). While 
Caligari' s narrative was relatively linear, Genuine focused 
on the machinations of a man-eating, blood-drinking 
vamp (Fern Andra) who is held captive by a mysterious 
lord. While Andra's hysterical acting style mirrored the 
impenetrable narrative, the film's emotional core was the 
depiction of unbridled sexual desire. 

Karl Heinz Martin also directed Das Ham zum 
Mond (The House at the Moon, 1921), with a script 
by the expressionist writer Rudolf Leonhardt (1889- 
1953) and sets by Neppach. Unfortunately, the film is 
now lost, making any visual analysis impossible. 
Brandherd (Torgus, 1921) also featured sets by Neppach 
and a script by Carl Mayer, but the visual design involved 
three-dimensional sets that only featured expressionist 
highlights. With its moralistic, melodramatic narrative, 
Robert Wiene's (1873-1938) adaptation of Crime and 
Punishment, Raskolnikow (1923), on the other hand, was 
as much a product of its all Russian-exile crew as it was a 

manifestation of expressionism. White Russians also 

financed Das Wachsfigurenkabinett {Waxworks, 1924) by 
Paul Leni (1885-1929), which employed stylized three- 
dimensional sets, and could be identified as expressionist 
through its acting style, some of its set pieces, and its 
lighting. The sets themselves hark back to Der Golem 
{The Golem, 1915) and other German Gothic films. In 
any case, except for Caligari and Waxworks, none of these 
films entered the canon of German expressionist cinema, 
and hardly influenced German national cinema in the 
1920s. Expressionism became conflated with what are 
now considered the classics of German silent cinema 
largely through the writings of two seminal historians, 
Lotte Eisner and Siegfried Kracauer. 


As early as 1930 Paul Rotha was conflating expressionist 
cinema with German national cinema, but the responsibility 




b. Vienna, Austria, 5 December 1890, d. 2 August 1976 

Considered one of the greatest directors of the classical 
German and Hollywood cinemas, Fritz Lang was equally 
at home in large-scale studio epics and dark, brooding 
melodramas. Throughout his career he was known for his 
intense visual style, which wed expressionist lighting 
techniques with highly geometric compositions to 
articulate a fatalistic, entrapping world. 

After beginning as a scriptwriter in 1 9 1 7, Lang attained a 
huge commercial success directing Die Spinnen { The Spiders) 
in 1920. That same year he married Thea von Harbou, his 
scriptwriter on all his subsequent German films, including Tod (Between Worlds, 1921), Z)n Mabuse, der 
Spieler {Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, 1 923) , Die Nibelungen 
(1924), and Metropolis (1927). Created at the giant 
Neubabelsberg Studios of Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft 
(Ufa), these films are characterized by German mysticism, 
monumental sets and costumes, and stylized compositions. 
With _M ( 1 93 1 ) , Lang immediately set new standards for the 
sound film, in particular through his montages of sound and 
image. That film starred Peter Lorre as a "sympathetic" child 
murderer, introducing darker themes that would become 
more prevalent in his American work. 

Lang was forced into exile by the Nazis, ending up in 
Hollywood in June 1 934. His first American film was Fury 
(1936), which featured Spencer Tracy as a man falsely 
accused of murder and almost lynched by a mob. Equally 
downbeat. You Only Live Once (1937) was a reworking of 
the Bonnie and Clyde story. Without a studio contract, 
Lang worked only occasionally in the next years. With 
four anti-Nazi films, including Hangmen Also Die! (1943) 
and Ministry of Fear (1944), Lang attempted to educate 
the public about fascism. Both films are suffused with a 
film noir atmosphere, as are Woman in the Window (1944) 
and Scarlet Street (1945). Lang was soon forced to take on 
a variety of low-budget projects, and was temporarily 
blacklisted during the McCarthy era due to his association 

with writer Bertolt Brecht, a known Communist 
sympathizer. In 1957 Lang returned to Germany to direct 
the two-part Das indische Grabmal [Indian Tomb, 1958), 
and Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse {The Thousand Eyes 
of Dr. Mabuse, 1960). In 1963 he appeared as a 
disenchanted Hollywood film director in Jean-Luc 
Godard's Le Mepris {Contempt, 1963). 

While for decades critics considered Lang to have gone 
into decline after his great German films, auteurist and 
more recent feminist readings have recuperated his 
American work. Reevaluating his contributions to both the 
anti-Nazi film cycle and to film noir, critics see Lang's 
Hollywood films in terms of his dark vision of the 
American bourgeoisie: Edward G. Robinson's characters in 
Window and Scarlet Street, for example, are middle-class 
citizens who commit or cover up murder for a femme 
fatale. Stylistically, Lang's films wed German expressionism 
to American genre cinema, finding film noir a congenial 
form for the expression of his dark, determinist vision. 


Der Made Tod {Between Worlds, 1921), Die Nibelungen 
(1924), Metropolis (1927), M (1931), Fury (1936), 
Hangmen Also Die! (1943), Woman in the Window (1944), 
Scarlet Street (1945), The Big Heat (1953) 


Bogdanovich, Peter. Fritz Lang in America. New York: 

Praeger, 1969. 
Grant, Barry Keith, ed. Fritz Lang Interviews. Jackson: 

University Press of Mississippi, 2003. 
Gunning, Tom. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision 

and Modernity. London: British Film Institute, 2000. 

Jenkins, Stephen, ed. Fritz Lang: The Image and the Look. 

London: British Film Institute, 1981. 
McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New 

York: St. Martin's, 1997. 

Jan-Christopher Horak 

for the semantic expansion of the term rests primarily 
with the influential German film historians Kracauer and 
Eisner. Both writers discuss only a handful of films while 
ignoring the thousands of comedies and other genre films 
produced in Berlin in the 1920s. Ironically, what for Kurtz 

had still been a revolutionary and liberating aesthetic form 
is inverted in their histories, turning expressionism into a 
prescient manifestation of German fascism and romantic 
doom — visual evidence for the German predilection toward 
Nazism and mass murder. 




Fritz Lang during production q/'Metropolis ( 1927). 


Kracauer, a former film critic in Weimar Germany, 
wrote his book From Caligari to Hitler (1947) while in 
exile in New York during and immediately after World 
War II, primarily to explain to Americans why the 
German nation sank into barbarism. Kracauer almost 
completely ignores German expressionism's stylistic fea- 
tures, focusing instead on narrative threads and typolo- 
gies that buttress his case that the cinema of the 
Weimar Republic gave evidence of the deluge to come 
by visualizing German psychology, specifically a sup- 
posed national character trait that embraced authoritarian 
figures. Critics have noted that Kracauer's analyses are 
highly selective and teleological, and the book leaves the 
impression that the expressionism of Caligari was inher- 
ent in all subsequent German cinema. 

Eisner's The Haunted Screen, first published in 
France in 1952, was likewise the work of a German 
Jewish film critic in exile, although, unlike Kracauer, 
Eisner's purpose was less ideological than art historical. 
Attempting to analyze the stylistic uniqueness of German 
art cinema in the 1920s while acknowledging its prece- 
dents in German romanticism, Eisner discusses two 
essentially unrelated phenomena: the influence of theater 
impresario Max Reinhardt and film expressionism. In 
fact, Reinhardt's utilization of chiaroscuro (interplay of 

light and shadow) and Kammerspiel (an intimate stage, 
involving only a few characters and sparse sets) mise- 
en-scene had little to do with German expressionism, as 
Eisner herself admitted in a series of articles published 
in the wake of her book's reception. Yet her description 
of formal lighting techniques and mise-en-scene in the 
films of Fritz Lang (1890-1976) and F. W. Murnau 
(1888—1931) have been associated with German expres- 
sionism ever since, as have the stylized acting common to 
much German silent cinema. 

By the dawn of Anglo-American film studies, then, 
expressionism and German Weimar cinema had become 
so conceptually intertwined that the terms were virtually 
interchangeable. Lang's Der Miide Tod {Between Worlds, 
1921) and Metropolis (1927), G.W. Pabst's (1885-1967) 
Die Freudlose Gasse {The Joyless Street, 1925) and Die 
3groschenoper {The Threepenny Opera, 1931), Ernst 
Lubitsch's (1892-1947) Die Bergkatze {The Wildcat, 
1921), E.A. Dupont's (1891-1956) Variete {Variety, 
1925), and numerous other German films were sub- 
sumed under the term German expressionist cinema, 
which itself became a stylistic signpost in the film histor- 
ical canon, situated somewhere between D.W. Griffith's 
American cinema of the 1910s and Soviet revolutionary 
cinema of the 1920s. If expressionism did enter into 
idiom of silent German art cinema, it was probably the 
highly stylized, somewhat static acting style of German 
expressionist thespians. This is particularly obvious in a 
film such as Hintertreppe {Backstairs, Leopold Jessner, 
1921), which is a Kammerspiel without any expressionist 
trappings in its visual design, but features pure expres- 
sionist performances by Fritz Kortner (1892-1970), 
William Dieterle (1893-1972), and the usually nonex- 
pressionist actress Henny Porten (1890-1960). 
Expressionist actors, including Werner Krauss (1884- 
1959), Conrad Veidt (1893-1943), Reinhold Schunzel 
(1886-1954), and Kortner, became among the most 
sought-after in German films of that period. 

In the past, traditional and formalist film critics 
differentiated films, filmmakers, and epochs through a 
series of binary oppositions whereby "realism" signified 
all attempts at depicting the world in terms of the 
conventions of a unified space and time, as had been 
passed down from the Renaissance (according to Andre 
Bazin), while expressionism defined attempts to visual- 
ize the universe from the strictly subjective point of view 
of the artist. According to this view, the push and pull 
of film forms began with the Lumiere brothers (realism) 
and Georges Melies (expressionism) at the very dawn of 
cinema. However, more recent early cinema studies 
have demonstrated that no such polarity existed at the 
time. Furthermore, film semiotics and postmodern 
theory have taken the field well beyond such simple, 
binary oppositions so that it is questionable whether 




Fritz Lang's costly Metropolis (1927) was one of the last silent German expressionist films. EVERETT COLLECTION. 

the continued use of the term expressionism in its broad- 
est sense remains useful. 

What, then, should expressionism mean? Given its 
origins in modernist art, expressionism should be seen 
as a particular form of film design that privileges the 
subjective over the objective, the fantastic and the 
uncanny over the mundane and everyday, packaging 
both trivial and high art into film works that address 
cinema audiences within the context of commercial film 
culture. Contrary to Edschmid's pronouncements, sub- 
jectivity in expressionist film is not seen merely as the 
"expression" of an individual artist, but rather as a sub- 
jectivity shared by an audience willing to enter into an 
alien world in order to partake of the visual pleasures 
such a design affords. Unlike classical Hollywood narra- 
tive, expressionist cinema tends toward self-reflexivity, 
toward making audiences aware of the image's artifice 
and their own subject position as consumers of images, 

whether through the undisguised use of painted sets, 
through the nonnaturalistic use of color film stock and 
lenses, or by distancing the audience from the actors' 
performances through styhzed poses. In any case, it seems 
clear that such a definition no longer carries with it any 
specific ideological connotations, other than a style in 
opposition to classical Hollywood narrative. 

Expressionism, properly speaking, refers exclusively 
to the artistic movement in the specific historical period 
in Germany in the early 1920s. The term also refers to 
German art films in the 1920s that were strongly influ- 
enced by expressionism. These films include such stylistic 
qualities as high key lighting, canted camera angles, sub- 
jective camera movement, stylized sets, nonnaturalistic 
acting, nonlinear narratives, a tendency toward dream- 
like images, and Gothic content that often privileges 
narratives of sexual excess, like Genuine. More broadly 
defined, expressionism may refer to Universal's horror 




films of the 1930s and films noir (many made by exiled 
German filmmakers) of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as 
contemporary films that quote German expressionist cin- 
ema, such as the films of Guy Maddin (b. 1956). 

SEE ALSO Acting; Germany; Production Design; Realism; 
Silent Cinema; Theater; Ufa (Universum Film 
Aktiengeselhchaft); Universal 


Bazin, Andre. What Is Cinema?, vol. 1, edited and translated by 
Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. 

Barlow, John D. German Expressionist Film. Boston: Twayne, 

Eisner, Lotte. The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German 
Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt. Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1969. 

Elsaesser, Thomas. Weimar Cinema and After: Germany's 
Historical Imaginary. London: Routledge, 2000. 

Gay, Peter. Weimar Culture. London: Penguin, 1968. 

Gianetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 
Prentice-Hall, 1990. 

Huaco, George. The Sociology of Film Art. New York: Basic 
Books, 1965. 

Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler. Princeton, NJ: 
Princeton University Press, 1947. 

Kurtz, Rudolf. Expressionismus und Film. Berlin: Verlag der 
Lichtbildbuhne, 1926; Reprinted Zurich: Verlag Hans Rohr, 
1965. All quotations translated by Jan-Christopher Horak 


Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. 
London: Star Word, 1989. 

Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History: An 
Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994. 

Jan-Christopher Horak 




Film fans and film fandom do not amount to quite the 
same thing: one can be a fan of a particular film, genre, 
actor, or director, but still not participate in the social 
organizations, interactions, and gatherings of "fandom." 
Being a fan is, at least in the first instance, a matter of 
appreciating particular films, and being affectively or 
emotionally invested in them. Fans are often individuals 
who are not in contact with other people sharing their 
emotional attachments to specific films or stars. Although 
being a "lone" fan of specific films or genres may not 
necessarily involve actual face-to-face communication 
with other fans, film buffs frequently imagine themselves 
as part of an extended fan community, along with absent 
but like-minded fans. Commercially published magazines 
help with this process of community building, enabling 
individual fans to sustain their sense of being part of a 
group even when they are not directly in touch with 
other fans. 


Unlike the individual fan, whose peer group or colleagues 
may coincidentally include like-minded film lovers, organ- 
ized fandom involves fans specifically seeking out those 
who share their tastes, thereby becoming involved in a 
range of social, cultural, and media activities that take this 
shared fandom as their starting point. Film fandom can 
involve participating in online discussion and posting to 
sites such as the Internet Movie Database (, 
joining film clubs or groups, or producing one's own fan 
magazine or "fanzine." Being part of organized fandom — 
whether for a certain film or star — is, first and foremost, 
linked to values of participation and production. Henry 
Jenkins stresses that fandom's participatory culture "is 

always shaped through input from other fans and moti- 
vated, at least partially, by a desire for further interaction 
with a larger social and cultural community" (Jenkins, 
1992, p. 76). Those participating in socially organized 
fandom often watch their favored films in fan groups, 
wanting to share the experience with others who they know 
similarly appreciate them. And fans also tend to wait 
together in long lines in order to see the first showings of 
blockbuster releases, again knowing that the audience will 
be full of fans like themselves with whom they will share an 
emotional experience and pleasure. 

These highly communal experiences, responses, and 
interpretations of fandom also translate into activities 
beyond simply viewing a highly anticipated and appreci- 
ated film. Film fans approach watching a film as just one 
stage within a wider process of consumption and pro- 
duction, with secondary texts such as promotional mate- 
rials and reviews leading up to the moment of viewing, 
fanzine reviews and commentaries following the initial 
filmic encounter, and repeated viewings and the collect- 
ing of DVDs with their special features. Film fandom is 
never about just "going to see a movie." 

Seeking to highlight the distinctiveness of fandom 
and its cultural practices, John Fiske has distinguished 
between different types of productivity, which he labels 
"semiotic," "enunciative," and "textual" production 
(Fiske, pp. 37-39). The first, semiotic, concerns produc- 
ing meaning from a film text — something that all audi- 
ences necessarily do as they cognitively process and make 
sense of a film. "Enunciative productivity" means talking 
about a film. Again, this is something that most film 
audiences do, but that fans tend to carry out distinctively, 
within the community of fandom. Fiske's third type, 


Fans and Fandom 

"textual productivity," is most specific to fan cultures, 
since it is very rarely the case that those outside fandom 
are motivated to write reviews, critiques, or analyses of 
favorite films (unless perhaps this forms a part of their 
professional identity as a film critic or academic). 
According to David Sanjek, fanzines are the clearest exam- 
ple of fandom's textual productivity, being "amateur 
publications, which by form and content distinguish 
themselves from 'prozines': the commercial, mainstream 
magazines" (p. 316). Although there is some truth to his 
distinction, Sanjek presents a somewhat exaggerated con- 
trast between fanzines and professionally published "pro- 
zines," suggesting that amateur fanzine editors have far 
greater freedom to write what they want, as they are not 
directly beholden to the movie industry and to patronage; 
while "prozine" editors are concerned almost exclusively 
with commercial cinema, amateur fanzines have little 
interest in "the slavish devotion to accepted formulae 
and conventions of the mainstream Hollywood product 
(p. 317). If an excessively neat and tidy opposition, it does 
acknowledge an important aspect of film fandom: its 
communities often set themselves apart from what they 
view as "mere" film "consumers" lacking in genre, textual, 
and production-history knowledge. 


Fandom is, in part, about acquiring and displaying forms 
of expertise. Rather like scholarly "readings" of films, 
fandom's favored mode of interpretation involves very 
close examination wherein films and their surrounding 
secondary texts are scrutinized for every detail and 
nuance. This interpretive practice is very much opposed 
to "casual" film viewing, which is assumed by fans to 
constitute a less knowledgeable and less discriminating 
type of viewing characteristic of those who operate out- 
side of fandom. 

Sanjek's depiction of fanzines also stresses the anti- 
commercial nature of film fandom, and the manner in 
which it can be opposed to mechanisms of promotion 
and publicity. This resonates both with the "under- 
ground" and anticommercial/antimainstream value sys- 
tems of many fan cultures, and with other scholarly work 
on film fandom that has viewed fans as "resistant" to 
capitalism and consumerism. For Greg Taylor, "fans are 
not true cultists unless they pose their fandom as a 
resistant activity," a position that keeps fan-cultists "one 
step ahead of those forces which would try to market 
their resistant taste back to them" in what seems to 
amount to an ongoing struggle between fandom and 
the forces of film commerce (p. 161). 

However, given this confluence of fan and academic 
values — ^where both groups may seek to keep their dis- 
tance from "the commercial" — it is possible that fan- 

dom's "resistant" qualities may be overstated. Many 
film fans are in fact dedicated fans of blockbuster films, 
and may fully embrace the commerciality of Hollywood 
"product" even while reading texts closely and analyzing 
them in a community of like-minded spectators. It can- 
not be assumed that fans are necessarily "outside" mech- 
anisms of film promotion, publicity, and commerce, nor 
that their distinctive fan practices are inherently trans- 
gressive or resistant to film commerce. Indeed, fans are of 
great value to media conglomerates as "reliable consum- 
ers" for their product lines, and that subcultures do 
indeed have a place within capitalism (Meehan, pp. 85- 
89). This means taking a more complex approach than 
that of contrasting fan "culture" and the "commerce" of 
media conglomerates. While Sanjek is certainly right to 
argue that mainstream magazines are dependent on good 
will and supplies of material from the film industry, it 
does not follow that fandom is wholly "independent" of 
commercial forces, pressures, and interests. 

If much work in film and cultural studies from 
Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers (1992) onwards has 
tended to take an overly celebratory stance on the partic- 
ipatory and productive cultures of film fandom, some 
writers have been excessively negative and dismissive of 
fandom. For example, Barbara Klinger has suggested that 
a crucial part of how contemporary films work as com- 
modities, and so are sold to audiences, is their "fragmen- 
tation into a series of specialized or 'starred' elements" 
(p. 126), referring to the way films are promoted by 
focusing on elements extracted from their overall narra- 
tive, production, and mise-en-scene. Publicity texts can 
then focus on specific saleable items such as the star, 
the director, state-of-the-art special effects, or controver- 
sial issues or themes raised in the narrative. This means 
that any given film can be sold to different audiences by 
stressing different elements, whether matters of romance, 
special effects, or directorial "art." Klinger argues that 
fans' expertise is therefore not at all independent of 
promotional and publicity mechanisms, since their 
behind-the-scenes knowledge, far from testifying to fans' 
autonomy, instead frequently indicates "the achieved 
strategies" of commercial, publicity material (p. 132). 

However, just as the argument that film fans are 
wholly opposed to, or outside of, capitalist forces seems 
strained, so too does the alternative viewpoint represent- 
ing fans wholly as the dupes or slaves of the Hollywood 
dream factory. This debate over the "resistant" or com- 
mercially "incorporated" nature of fandom has under- 
pinned an entire paradigm of study, but recent 
approaches to fandom have begun to pose new questions. 
Film historian Janet Staiger has pointed out that many 
studies of fandom have emphasized the positive social 
aspects of fans' community-building activities, arguing 



Fans and Fandom 

for approaches to fandom that do not singularly celebrate 
or decry it (2000, p. 54). 

Indeed, it also may be difficult to "balance" repre- 
sentations of fans as "good" (resistant) and "bad" (incor- 
porated into the industry). Matt Hills argues that any 
such balanced or "multiperspectival" approach to fan- 
dom is fraught with problems insofar as it seeks to resolve 
what may be inherent contradictions within fandom and 
audience identities. Against such attempts to resolve fan- 
doms into clearly definable binaries, a more general, 
dialectical model of fandom is called for, one capable 
of dealing with actual contradictions within cultural 
phenomena (see Hills, pp. 27-45). Fans may be simulta- 
neously inside and outside market forces, resisting eco- 
nomic pressures in some ways and behaving as "reliable 
consumers" in others. In defense of media studies' work 
seeking to ascertain fans' resistance to commercial forces, 
it could be argued that such resistance can still be clearly 
identified, whether it is resistance to the commodification 
of film culture via a kind of "underground" film appre- 
ciation, or whether it is a reaction against specific types of 
film such as the blockbuster. But this assertion rehes on a 
zero-sum view of power as something that fans either do 
or do not possess, as well as assuming that resistance can 
be critically isolated by scholars. Such an academic 
approach returns us to a type of fan studies premised 
on identifying "good" and "bad" objects, thereby claim- 
ing the moral authority to label fan practices as either 
"progressive" or "reactionary" (see Fan Cultures). 


Fans and fandom have been subjected to moral surveil- 
lance, and a powerfully moralizing gaze, throughout film 
history. In common-sense terms, the fan audience 
(whether socially organized into fandom or not) has 
typically been represented as a bit weird, excessively emo- 
tional in relation to favored stars, too interested in the 
trivia of films' production and the miniscule details of 
close reading, or too obsessed with the world of film to 
live successfully in the real world. Film fans sometimes 
have to defend themselves against accusations that they 
are losers or maladjusted geeks. Even the notion that film 
is an art with its own visionary auteurs has not been 
enough to dispel the image of the pathological movie 
fan, and neither has the term cinephilia, with its high- 
cultural overtones. For example, the US documentary 
Cinemania (2002) portrays a group of self-professed cin- 
ephiles as variously dysfunctional: unable to hold down 
jobs or have sex lives, instead they obsessively devote their 
time to attending art-house cinemas in New York. Movie 
fandom is an object of ridicule in such media portrayals, 
however affectionate or highbrow they are. It is against 
this background of negative stereotyping of fans as losers 

and geeks that much scholarly work on fans and fandom 
has sought to positively reevaluate fandom as instead 
indicating participation in a like-minded community 
and involving healthy audience creativity. 

The importance of stardom within film culture also 
has led to fans being morally devalued and stereotypically 
represented as hysterical obsessives. Analyzing the begin- 
nings of movie fan culture from the 1910s onward, as 
regional variations in film exhibition were supplanted by 
a national popular culture through a wide range of films, 
books, plays, and popular songs from the early twentieth 
century, movie fans were depicted as celebrity-obsessed 
female daydreamers, the archetypal image of the fan 
being that of a hysterical, starstruck teenage girl (see 
Fuller, p. 116). This feminizing of film fans — including 
males — was powerfully reinforced by the film industry in 
the wake of the development of the star system. Once the 
star system began to take hold, and stars' names were 
promoted and publicized, it then became possible for 
fans to be represented as feminized, celebrity-obsessed 

Academic work on movie fans has sometimes 
assumed that their fandom can be equated with being a 
fan of a specific celebrity. Jackie Stacey offers a sensitive 
study of female fans that challenges negative stereotypes 
surrounding the subject and argues that fans do not 
simply "identify" with film stars (that is, perceive stars 
as sharing qualities with themselves, or wish to "be like 
them") or desire them as idealized fantasy figures. 
Instead, the ways in which fans — and organized fan- 
doms — relate to film stars are far more complicated, 
involving a range of cinematic and extracinematic prac- 
tices. Again, fans and fandom are linked to activities that 
go beyond just watching a star's movies. Stacey analyzes 
fans' feelings of devotion, worship, and even transcen- 
dence: appreciating a particular film star allows them to 
tune out everyday worries, disappointments, and stresses 
(p. 145). Stacey highlights a range of fan practices that 
occur outside the moment of film viewing, such as self- 
consciously pretending to be a favorite star or otherwise 
imitating and copying them. These imitations do not 
mean that such fans have "lost touch with reality," nor 
that they really want to be someone else; instead, their 
fandom is merely expressed and displayed through spe- 
cific cultural activities (p. 171). 

Other work on star— fan relationships has stressed the 
role of organized fandom in communally shaping audi- 
ences' reactions to, and appreciations of, movie stars. For 
example, Richard Dyer observes how Judy Garland 
became an icon for gay audiences, who interpreted her 
career and personal struggles as "representing the situa- 
tion and experience of being gay in a homophobic soci- 
ety" (p. 153). It can be argued that Garland's star text 



Fans and Fandom 

b. Potsdam, Germany, 22 January 1893, d. 3 April 1943 

Conrad Veidt appeared in such classic German 
expressionist films as Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari ( The 
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), in which he played 
somnambulist Cesare; Orlacs Hdnde ( The Hands of Orlac, 
1924); and Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 
1926). In Caligari, Veidt's androgynous sleepwalker elicits 
fear and dread firom everyone else in the film while being 
both the instrument and victim of Dr. Caligari (Emil 
Jannings) . Some have seen Veidt as a forerunner of later 
movie monsters that elicit some degree of sympathy, such 
as Boris Karloff's creature in Frankenstein (1933). 

A star of silent film who was strongly linked to the 
German expressionist movement in the initial phases of his 
career, Veidt went on to play evil Nazi characters in later 
sound films such as Escape (1940). He was typecast in 
sinister, creepy, or just plain monstrous roles, often 
representing the "bad German" partly as a result of the 
historical and cultural context in which he was working, 
and partly because of his own looks and acting style. The 
role of Major Strasser in the classic cult film Casablanca 
(1942) was one of Veidt's final Hollywood roles, coming 
after he had taken a break from working in the United 
States to act in Britain from 1932 to 1940. Veidt's 
performances were frequendy highly stylized, in line with 
the calculated distortions typical of German expressionism. 

Being an unusual star, and given his appearances in 
classic and cult films such as Casablanca and Caligari, 
Veidt himself has been embraced as a cult icon, 
particularly by cinephiles who have an awareness of film 
history. The Conrad Veidt Society was formed in 1990 by 
James Rathlesberger, and its members commemorated the 
fiftieth anniversary of Veidt's death (and the one 

hundredth anniversary of his birth) in 1993. According to 
its Internet homepage, the society is dedicated to 
promoting "classic" films, working to place "Veidt in the 
context of his times — Germany during the fame of the 
Expressionist film, England after the rise of Hitler, and 
America gearing up to fight WWII." Its members 
particularly value Veidt for his anti-Nazi humanism and 
his career-long fight against intolerance and prejudice. 
Onscreen, though, Veidt ended his career playing a Nazi 
in the escapist Above Suspicion (1943), his last film. 


Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari ( The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 
1920), Orlacs Hdnde {The Hands of Orlac, 1924), Der 
Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1926), The Man 
Who Laughs (1928), Jew Suss (1934), Under the Red Robe 
(1937), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), All Through the 
Night (1942), Casablanca (1942) 


Allen, Jerry C. Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca. 

Revised ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Boxwood, 1993. 
Brosnan, John. The Horror People. New York: St. Martin's 

Press, and London: MacDonald and Jane's, 1976. 
Budd, Mike, ed. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Texts, Contexts, 

Histories. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 


Conrad Veidt Society Official Home Page, available online at 

Telotte, J. P. "Beyond All Reason: The Nature of the Cult." 
In The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason, edited by 
J. P. Telotte, 5—17. Austin: University of Texas Press, 

Matt Hills 

Still is widely perceived as the special province of a gay 
male fandom. Other types of subcultural fandom may 
also be linked to the revaluation of particular stars. 
For example, fans of classic horror may especially appre- 
ciate movie stars from the silent era, such as Conrad 
Veidt (1893-1943), whose appearances in films such as 
Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. 
Caligari, 1 920) and Orlacs Hdnde ( 77?^ Hands of Orlac, 
1924) linked him to stylized acting performances and 
representations of the sinister. Far from being a main- 

stream "leading man," Veidt nevertheless has become a 
focal point for a specific horror fan and cinephile com- 
munity who can interpret his "monstrous" and marginal 
characters in relation to the antimainstream difference of 
their own fan culture. Rather than suggesting that partic- 
ular types of fandom may be especially linked to certain 
stars, the case of gay male fandom shows that mainstream 
male stars such as Keanu Reeves can also be revalued 
or reinterpreted, especially stars whose publicity images 
represent their sexuality in an ambiguous manner. 




Organized fandom can dius sustain difFerent readings of 
ubiquitous star images as well as especially valuing certain 
stars as a badge of distinction and marker of distance 
from "the mainstream." 


In comparison with the early twentieth-century creation 
of movie fandom, the figure of the movie fan is perhaps 
less clearly gendered as feminine/feminized today, but 
this is because of a much changed cultural context, 
wherein both men and women are frequently targeted 
and imaged as consumers. In addition to the star system, 
with its "picture personalities," directors and those 
involved in the technical craft of filmmaking are now 
also increasingly publicized celebrities in their own right. 
This shift means that film fans can align themselves more 
clearly with notions of film as art — and partly avoid 
negative stereotypes of celebrity obsession — by indicating 
their fandom of film directors. 

This aspect of fandom moves closer to the scholarly 
appreciation of film, since treating film as art and digni- 
fying certain directors with "authorial" or auteurist st&XMS 

Fans and Fandom 

is a strategy that has historically characterized film stud- 
ies, and that still retains more than a foothold today. 
So-called "auteur theory" was initially employed solely 
by intellectuals and cinephiles seeking to value film as a 
medium, and although it carried cultural cachet, it was 
also accessible enough for nonacademic audiences to 
appreciate (Taylor, p. 87). Moving from being an exclu- 
sive/elitist view of film held by French cineastes, auteur- 
ism entered the US scene and became popularized to the 
extent that Hollywood incorporated its discourse into its 
own publicity. Auteurism is no longer just a critical 
approach, but also a commercial strategy for organizing 
how audiences may respond to film texts. Uniting film- 
makers, scholars, publicists, and fans, the notion that 
certain privileged directors are artists has tended to create 
and sustain aesthetic personality cults around them. This 
type of "personality cult" also has been significant to 
certain organized fandoms, such as those surrounding 
offbeat, sleeper, quirky, and classical Hollywood films 
labeled "cult movies." These organized fandoms have 
tended to use auteur theory as a means of claiming to 
find artistic value within the terrain of independent film. 

One of the most significant cultural activities under- 
taken by film fans, then, is the way in which they seek to 
invest the work of their preferred performers and direc- 
tors with cultural capital, setting their tastes against what 
they perceive and construct as mainstream cinema. 
However, such an apparent detachment from "the com- 
mercial" is itself commercial, since these fans are still 
placed within a specific market. Though this is related 
to the debate over fandom's resistant capability, it can 
also be viewed as a matter of film fans' cultural practices. 
Cult-film fans seek to defend and value their favored 
texts, but by doing so they also hope to reflect their 
own aesthetic taste, for they can see "true" artistic worth 
where general audiences cannot. Such fan audiences' bids 
for distinction are especially clear in relation to genres 
that are frequendy devalued in "dominant" film 
criticism, such as "trash" and exploitation cinema. 
Mark Kermode argues that horror fans actively perceive 
the genre's aesthetic value, whereas nonfans passively 
consume horror as if its representations are actual rather 
than aestheticized images of gore; he offers a convincing 
opposition between "active" fans who read horror films 
in relation to surreal genre precedents and "passive" 
nonfans who are characterized as reading horror films 
more naively. 

In Kermode's account, horror fans are, crucially, 
"genre literate." Like fans of other genres or specific 
movie stars, they are expert consumers, able to trace 
generic histories and interpret new films in relation to 
countless preceding examples. This type of movie fan has 
a keen sense of intertextuality; thus, boundaries around 
"the text itself" tend to be pardy dissolved by fans who, 



Fans and Fandom 

even while they carry out close readings of certain films, 
relate texts to others, either by generic category, in auteu- 
rist terms, or by focusing on a favored star. Organized 
fandoms, like those for cult movies or the horror genre, 
therefore challenge the idea that any film's meaning and 
significance are inherent. Rather, it is by reading films in 
relation to, and through, other texts that fans can convert 
"the film" into those meanings and values that charac- 
terize their fandom as a kind of interpretive community. 
Fans read films not only through official publicity texts 
such as DVD extras, but also in relation to fan-produced 
texts (fan fiction). Henry Jenkins proffers the example of 
one fan who wrote an alternative ending to the film 
Thelma and Louise (1991) in which these female charac- 
ters transform themselves into bats (Jenkins, 2000, 
p. 177). Recontextualizing the film as a lesbian vampire 
tale, this creative fan interpretation (and production) of 
meaning indicates how generic identities and textual 

boundaries can be reinscribed by film fans, sometimes 
working against what producers, and other audiences, 
may view as the obvious categories, boundaries, and 
identities of a film. Thus, whether it is the interpretive 
activities of individual fans, or the socially organized, 
communal practices of fandom, fans and fandom have 
been as important to film studies as to the film industry. 
They demonstrate how loyal audiences can be a part of 
film commerce and also set themselves apart from com- 
mercial processes. 

SEE ALSO Auteur Theory and Authorship; Cinephilia; 
Cult Films; Journals and Magazines; Reception 
Theory; Spectatorship and Audiences; Stars 


Abercrombie, Nicholas, and Brian Longhurst. Audiences: A 
Sociological Theory of Performance and Imagination. London: 
Sage, 1998. 



Fans and Fandom 

Barker, Martin, and Kate Brooks. Knowing Audiences: ]udge 
Dredd — Its Friends, Fans, and Foes. Luton, UK: University of 
Luton Press, 1998. 

Dyer, Richard. Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. London: 
British Film Institute, 1986. 

Fiske, John. "The Cultural Economy of Fandom." In The 
Adoring Audience, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 30-49. New York 
and London: Routledge, 1992. 

Fuller, Kathryn H. At the Picture Show: Small Town Audiences 
and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture. Washington, DC and 
London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996. 

Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge, 

Jenkins, Henry. "Reception Theory and Audience Research: The 
Mystery of the Vampire's Kiss." In Reinventing Film Studies, 
edited by Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams, 165-182. 
London: Arnold, 2000. 

. Textual Poachers. London and New York: Routledge, 


Kermode, Mark. "I Was a Teenage Horror Fan, or. How I 

Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Linda Blair." In /// 
Effects: The Media/Violence Debate, edited by Martin Barker 

and Julian Pedey, 57-66. London and New York: Routledge, 

Klinger, Barbara. "Digressions at the Cinema: Commodification 
and Reception in Mass Culture." In Modernity and Mass 
Culture, edited by James Naremore and Patrick Brantlinger, 
117-134. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. 

Meehan, Eileen R. "Leisure or Labor?: Fan Ethnography and 
Political Economy." In Consuming Audiences?: Production and 
Reception in Media Research, edited by Ingunn Hagen and 
Janet Wasko, 71-92. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000. 

Sanjek, David. "Fans' Notes: The Horror Film Fanzine." In The 
Horror Reader, edited by Ken Gelder, 314-323. London and 
New York: Routledge, 2000. 

Stacey, Jackie. Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female 
Spectatorship. London and New York: Routledge, 1 994. 

Staiger, Janet. Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception. 
New York: New York University Press, 2000. 

Taylor, Greg. Artists in the Audience: Cults, Camp, and American 
Film Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 

Matt Hills 




Arguably, any film relying on fictional situations and 
characters might be considered fantasy. Indeed 
Hollywood's "dream factory" prides itself on transport- 
ing its audience to myriad fictional settings. In practice, 
however, fantasy is a term reserved for a specific subset of 
films featuring characters, events, or settings that are 
improbable or impossible in the world as we know it. 
This loose definition yields a staggering array of films 
that vary widely in subject matter, tone, and intended 
audience. The children's film Willy Wonka and the 
Chocolate Factory (1971), for example, would seem to 
have little in common with Conan the Barbarian 
(1982), yet both are considered fantasy because of their 
fantastical characters and events. While some films fea- 
ture isolated moments of fantasy in otherwise realistic or 
dramatic contexts, the designation fantasy is usually 
reserved for movies whose imaginary elements pervade 
the entire story. For example, despite the miraculous rain 
of toads occurring near its end, the gut-wrenching drama 
Magnolia (1999) is not considered fantasy. 

In addition to the wide variety of films that fall 
within the fantasy classification, confusion often arises 
about science fiction and horror. Although many con- 
sider these to be separate genres, their relation to fantasy 
cannot be overlooked since all three revolve around elab- 
orate fantasy scenarios. Defining fantasy film as a discrete 
genre is problematic due to the large number of story 
types it encompasses, and therefore it may be more useful 
to consider fantasy as a "mode" rather than as a genre. 
Seen in this light, science fiction and horror are genres 
that express distinct aspects of the fantasy mode, while 
other story types might be considered as additional sub- 
genres of the mode. 


The term "speculative fiction" is sometimes used to 
avoid making a distinction between various strands of 
fantasy, science fiction, and horror or to account for the 
considerable overlap among the three. While both science 
fiction and horror films are certainly types of fantasy, 
many would agree that each is distinct in its purview and 
that each operates differently in terms of themes, con- 
flicts, and iconography. 

Whereas science fiction relies on scientific para- 
digms, technologies, facts, and paraphernalia to create 
hypothetical but scientifically credible scenarios, fantasy 
is subject to no such restrictions. Fantasy does not need 
to convince the audience that its story is realistic — rather, 
it invites the audience to temporarily expand its credul- 
ity — hence the phrase so often associated with this genre, 
"the willing suspension of disbelief" Rather than appeal 
to science, fantasy favors magical or mystical explana- 
tions. Fantasy films are usually logically consistent, but 
their internal logic belongs to an imagined rather than a 
scientific world. Although the iconography of science 
fiction includes spaceships, computers, and ray-guns, a 
fantasy film is more likely to feature flying horses, crystal 
balls, or magic wands. In practice, however, many films 
are hybrids. For example, the science fiction film The 
Empire Strikes Back (1980) invokes no scientific premise 
to explain Yoda's mystical powers or Luke's mastery of 
the "the Force," a skill that defies logic and must be 
accessed through a kind of intuition. Likewise, E. T. the 
Extraterrestrial (1982) features an adorable alien whose 
ability to heal wounds seems more miraculous than 



Fantasy Films 

While some science fiction films are dramatic or 
upbeat, many attempt to frighten the audience, thus 
blurring the line between science fiction and horror. 
Typically, the divide between pure horror and science 
fiction depends on the presence of scientific elements. 
Another distinguishing factor concerns the nature and 
the source of the horror: science fiction is more likely 
to be concerned with an external threat on a grand scale 
(for example, aliens attacking the Earth in War of the 
Worlds [1953]), whereas horror is more likely to stem 
from internal, human evil on a more personal scale (for 
example, evil ghosts threatening a family in Poltergeist 
[1982]). While some fantasies invoke horror and some 
horror films are clearly fantasies, films of terror that 
would not be considered fantasy include slasher films 
such as Friday the 13th (1980) or thrillers such as Dial 
M for Murder (1954), since in each case the source of fear 
is rooted in a (hypothetically) realistic threat. A science 
fiction film such as The Andromeda Strain (1971) may 
also provoke fear, thus overlapping with horror, but it 
too would be excluded from a pure fantasy classification 
because its horrific scenario is grounded in the logical 
conclusions to scientific hypotheses. 

Horror films most often overlap with fantasy when 

they feature monsters or creatures with no clear scientific 
explanation (the frightening but misunderstood ape in 
the classic 1933 film, King Kong), or when they enter the 
supernatural realm (ghosts, vampires, unexplained phe- 
nomena). What distinguishes supernatural horror from 
pure fantasy is the pervasive presence of a horrific and 
threatening scenario. Ghosts in films like A Guy Named 
Joe (1943) or Beetlejuice (1988) function very differently 
from ghosts in horror films like The Haunting (1963); 
the tone of the films differ accordingly. 

Even though science fiction and horror blend with 
fantasy in many movies, many fantasy films fit neither of 
those categories and instead find their roots in fairy tales, 
myths and legends, comic strips, and children's stories. 
Excluding pure science fiction and horror, the major 
strands of fantasy might be grouped into the following 
general subcategories: sword and sorcery/medieval fan- 
tasy: Dragonslayer (1981), Willow (1988), The Lord of 
the Rings trilogy (2001-2003); children's stories: Peter 
Pan (1953), James and the Giant Peach (1996), the 
Harry Potter series (beginning in 2001); fairy tales and 
myths: La belle et la bete {Beauty and the Beast, 1946), 
Jason and the Argonauts (1963); creatures and monsters: 
King Kong (1933), Monsters, Lnc. (2001); supernatural: 
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Bedazzled (1967), Ghost 
(1990); magic or miracles: Big (1988), The Santa Clause 
(1994); comic book or superheroes: Dick Tracy (1990), 
Spider-Man (2002); romantic fantasy: Splash (1984), 
Groundhog Day (1993); comic fantasy: Beetlejuice 
(1988), Ghostbusters (1984); dream fantasy: The Wizard 

of Oz (1939); action fantasy: Raiders of the Lost Ark 
(1981); martial arts fantasy: The Matrix (1999), Wo hu 
cang long {Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000); musi- 
cal fantasy: Brigadoon (1954), The Lion King (1994); 
Utopian fantasy: Lost Horizon (1937); dystopian fantasy: 
Brazil (1985); time travel: Time Bandits (1981), Bill and 
Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989); self-referential: 8V2 
(1963), Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Pleasantville 
(1998); avant-garde or surreal: Le Sang d'un poete {The 
Blood of a Poet, 1930). 

These subcategories account for some of the major 
strands of fantasy, but they are by no means exhaustive, 
nor do they include such films as the delightfully warped 
Being John Malkovich (1999). Moreover, no matter how 
many highly particular categories are devised for fantasy 
films, many films nonetheless fit into a number of 
categories. The Princess Bride (1987), for example, is a 
romantic comedy but also a fairy tale; The Wizard of Oz 
(1939) is a musical but also a dream fantasy with a fairy- 
tale bent. A further distinction might be made between 
fantasies that are live-action {Edward Scissorhands, 1990), 
animated {Peter Pari), puppet-based {The Dark Crystal, 
1982), or entirely computer-generated {Toy Story, 1995). 
Here again, many films combine categories — for exam- 
ple, Mary Poppins (1964), which employs interludes of 
animation within a live-action setting, or the live-action/ 
animated film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), widely 
acclaimed for its innovative special effects. 


One of the first filmmakers associated with fantasy film 
was the French filmmaker Georges Melies (1861-1938), 
who used trick photography and elaborate sets to create 
fantastic stories such as Le voyage dans la lune {A Trip to 
the Moon, 1902). As longer feature films developed in the 
silent era, a smattering of science fiction and fantasy 
narratives appeared such as Twenty Thousand Leagues 
Under The Sea (1916), and The Thief of Bagdad (1924), 
which starred the silent film idol Douglas Fairbanks 
(1883-1939). In Germany, directors such as Robert 
Wiene (1873-1938), Fritz Lang (1890-1976), and F. W. 
Murnau (1888-1931) set the stage for a darker type of 
fantasy associated with German Expressionism. Highly 
influential to the horror genre, these disturbing tales of evil 
and supernatural forces included such classics as Das 
Kabinett des Doktor Caligari { The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 
1920), Metropolis (1927), and the vampire movie Nosferatu 
(1922), known for its chilling visuals and trick photogra- 
phy. Hans Richter (b. 1919) took a more experimental 
approach to special effects, using stop-motion animation 
in Vormittagsspuk {Ghosts before Breakfast, 1928), a short 
avant-garde film that featured flying bowler hats and 
other inanimate objeas brought to life. 



Fantasy Films 

Jean Cocteau. EVERETT collection, reproduced by 


The advent of sound film in 1927 was accompanied 
by innovations in special effects, creating new possibilities 
for cinematic fantasy. Though not as dark or gruesome as 
the German silent films, Hollywood's spate of monster 
and horror films in the 1930s, such as Dracula (1931) 
and Frankenstein (1931), used a similar bag of special 
efi^ects tricks, including miniatures and stop-motion pho- 
tography to create fantastical creatures such as the ape 
in King Kong, created by special-effects pioneer Willis 
O'Brien (1886-1962). On a lighter note, the 1940 
remake of The Thief of Bagdad delighted audiences with 
its vibrant colors and fantastic scenarios. Fantasy also 
benefited hugely from the special effects wizardry of 
O'Brien's protege Ray Harryhausen (b. 1920) and from 
George Pal (1908-1980), who produced and directed 
Tom Thumb (1958), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), 
and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). 

By the 1950s, science fiction had emerged as a major 
genre in its own right. Playing on fears of nuclear holo- 
caust and anxiety associated with space travel, most sci- 
ence fiction films used special effects to create frightening 
aliens from outer space or monsters created by atomic 

radiation. During the same period, Hollywood audiences 
were treated to The Thing From Another World (1951), 
The Blob (1958), and a host of alien invasions. Japanese 
filmmakers introduced their own infamous monster in 
Gojira {Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1954). 

The confluence of sound, special effects and 
Technicolor could also yield a more light-hearted type 
of fantasy, as evidenced by the perennially popular musi- 
cal. The Wizard of Oz (1939). Combining song and 
dance within a fairy-tale narrative, the film drew on the 
conventions and sensibilities of the musical, a genre 
known for creating its own particular versions of Utopian 
and romantic fantasy. Musical fantasy also became a 
common element in many Indian films, such as Awaara 
{The Vagabond, 1951) by Raj Kapoor. 

The combination of music and fantasy has long been 
a hallmark of Disney films. Perhaps best known for its 
work in animation, Disney has specialized in fantasy 
stories since its inception, with a heavy emphasis on 
musicals and children's fare. Classics such as Pinocchio 
(1940) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), 
hailed as the first fiill-length animated film, were precur- 
sors to the recent trend in animated musicals like The 
Little Mermaid (1989). While many fantasy films are 
intended for youthfiil audiences and are derived directly 
or indirectly from children's books or fairy tales, some 
successfully operate on the adult level as well. The term 
"family film" ofiien denotes films like Shrek (2001) that 
appeal to all ages by combining fantasy worlds with 
clever animation and more sophisticated humor. 

Children's stories, fairy tales, and myths have influ- 
enced many American fantasy films, yet other cinematic 
strands of fantasy could be found in the "art" films of 
Europe, which often featured innovative, complex, and 
sometimes disturbing fantasies. Eschewing narrative 
coherence, the Surrealists used vivid set pieces, special 
effects, and montage to explore the possibilities of cinema 
as an expression of subversive and subconscious impulses. 
In France, the Spanish-born Salvador Dali (1904-1989) 
and Luis Bufiuel (1900-1983) collaborated to produce 
Un chien Andalou {An Andalusian Dog, 1929), a short 
experimental piece that has retained its ability to shock 
and disorient film viewers. In 1930, the two applied their 
artistic sensibility to the politically explosive feature L 'age 
d'or {The Golden Age). 

Avant-garde and experimental filmmakers pushed 
the boundaries of cinematic expression, but fantasy also 
continued to flourish in more traditional forms. Drawing 
on his earlier explorations of surreal effects, Jean Cocteau 
(1889-1963) applied his imaginative skills to the crea- 
tion of a classic fairy tale, La belle et la bete {Beauty and 
the Beast, 1946). Current audiences are familiar with 
Disney's animated version of the story, but for many, 



Fantasy Films 

h. Maurice Eugene Clement Cocteau, Maisons-Lafitte, France, 5 July 1889, 

d. 11 October 1963 

Jean Cocteau is perhaps best known for his classic fantasy 
film, La belle et la bete [Beauty and the Beast, 1946), based 
on the fairy tale by Madame Leprince de Beaumont. The 
multi-talented Cocteau was a painter, poet, and dramatist 
who is also remembered for his experiments in surrealist 
and avant-garde techniques. 

Founded in the early 1920s, the Surrealist movement 
concerned itself with the connection between reality and 
fantasy, rationality and the unconscious. By harnessing 
and combining these opposing spheres, the Surrealists 
attempted to create a kind of "super-reality" characterized 
by disturbing, irrational, and dream-like images. While 
many employed shocking images in order to critique the 
status quo, Cocteau devoted himself to the aesthetic 
ramifications of the movement. In Le Sang d'un poete ( The 
Blood of a Poet, 1932), Cocteau used special effects to 
create a disjointed, expressionistic commentary on the 
angst of the artist. Inspired by the myth of Orpheus, this 
short experimental film used dream-like images to suggest 
the sacrifices that the artist makes in the service of art. 

In Beauty and the Beast, Cocteau created a more 
traditional, full-length narrative. Starring Jean Marais and 
Josette Day, this beautiful black-and-white film tells the 
story of a young woman who finds herself a prisoner of a 
strange man/beast in atonement for her father's theft of a 
rose from the Beast's garden. Beauty is frightened by the 
growling Beast and by the enchanted manor he inhabits. 
Bodiless human hands usher Beauty into the castle and 
magically serve her dinner, while lifeless statues 
periodically awaken to observe her actions. Cocteau used 
simple but clever mechanical effects to create these and 
other celebrated moments of cinematic fantasy. 
Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast come to love one 
another, and when the Beast is killed at the end of the 

film, he turns into a prince as he and Beauty fly into the 
sky in a romantic embrace. Jean Marais plays three 
characters here: the Beast, the Prince, and Beauty's original 
suitor (Avenant), who simultaneously changes into the 
Beast just as the Beast is transformed into the Prince. 

In Orphee (Orpheus, 1950), Cocteau returned to the 
mythological theme of his first film, updating the story and 
creating a full-length narrative with a surreal bent. Set in 
modern-day France and once again starring Jean Marais, 
the film tells the story of Orpheus and his lover Eurydice as 
he follows her into the underworld following her death. 
Here and in other films, Cocteau employed a mirror motif 
to connote either a window into a distant place or a portal 
into another world. Continuing his obsession with the role 
of the artist, Cocteau rounded out his trilogy of Orpheus 
films in 1960 with Le Testament d' Orphee ( The Testament 
of Orpheus), in which he appeared as himself. 

Beauty and the Beast earned Cocteau the Prix Louis 
Delluc as well as a number of prizes at the Cannes Film 
Festival. Cocteau was elected to the French Academy in 1955. 


Le Sang d'un poete {The Blood of a Poet, 1932), La belle et la 
bete (Beauty and the Beast, 1946), L'Aigle a deux tetes (The 
Eagle Lias Two Heads, 1947), Orphee (Orpheus, 1950), Le 
Testament d' Orphee (The Testament of Orpheus, 1960) 


Cocteau, Jean. Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film. New 
York: Dover, 1972. 

Evans, Arthur B. ]ean Cocteau and His Films of Orphic 
Identity. Philadelphia: Arts Alliance Press, 1977. 

Fraigneau, Andre. Cocteau on the Film: Conversations with 
]ean Cocteau. New York: Dover, 1972. 

Katherine A. Fowkes 

Cocteau's black-and-white, live-action fantasy remains 
the quintessential version. 

Elsewhere, Sweden's Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918) was 
responsible for a number of surreal films, such as Det 
sjunde inseglet {The Seventh Seal, 1957), in which a knight 
returns from the Crusades and challenges Death to a 

chess game. In Italy, Federico Fellini (1920-1993) broke 
from the neorealist movement to produce his disjointed, 
dreamlike classics 8V2 (1963) and Giulietta degli spiriti 
(Juliet of the Spirits, 1965). And in Japan, Kenji 
Mizoguchi (1898-1956) produced the ghostly Ugetsu 
monogatari (1953). 



Fantasy Films 

Jean Cocteau creates a charming fantasy world with 
minimal means in La belle et la bete (ReAuty and the 

Beginning in the late 1970s, Hollywood experienced 

a renewed interest in science fiction and fantasy, stoked 
in part by the films of George Lucas (b. 1944) and Steven 
Spielberg (b. 1946). Star Wars (1977) and E. T.: the 
Extraterrestrial (1982) were among the many popular 
films to whet movie-goers' appetites for a more upbeat 
type of science fiction than had been popular in the 
1950s and 1960s. Star Wars drew inspiration from 
Kakushi-toride no san-akunin {The Hidden Fortress, 
1958), directed by the well-known Japanese filmmaker 
Akira Kurosawa. The 1980s also saw a spate of medieval 
sword and sorcery films, spurred by the popularity of the 
role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. While films 
such as Dragonslayer (1981) and Ladyhawke (1985) were 
not widely popular, they paved the way for the hugely 
successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first of which 
premiered in 200 1 . That same year, the runaway success 
of the Harry Potter children's books spawned the 
franchise for another film series about magic and heroism 
with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). 

In the 1990s, Ghost (1990) emerged as the most 
popular among a series of supernatural melodramas that 
eschewed horror for comic or dramatic stories. Even The 

Sixth Sense (1999), which initially presented itself as 
horror/suspense, eventually revealed itself to be more of 
a melodrama in the tradition of Ghost (1990), Always 
(1989), and Truly Madly Deeply (1991). Many super- 
natural melodramas drew inspiration from earlier films. 
City of Angels (1998) was a mainstream remake of the art 
film Der Himmel iiber Berlin {Wings of Desire, 1987), 
directed by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders 
(b. 1945). The Preacher's Wife (1996), Michael (1996), 
and Meet Joe Black (1998) provided variations on a type 
of non-horror, supernatural film that had experienced 
popularity in the 1930s and 1940s — for example. The 
Bishop's Wife (1947), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), and 
Death Takes a Holiday (1934). 

In the United States and elsewhere, it was computer- 
generated imagery (CGI) that most affected the look and 
feel of cinematic fantasy in the 1980s and 1990s. The 
technology didn't truly come of age until the underwater 
fantasy The Abyss (1989) and later Toy Story (1995), an 
"animated" film made completely with computer 
imagery. Also notable for their reliance on CGI were 
the highly successful Jurassic Park (1993), Terminator 2: 
Judgment Day (1991), Eorrest Gump (1994), and The 
Mask (1994). The Matrix (1999) introduced a striking 
new approach to the choreography of action and fight 
sequences. The Matrix was heavily influenced by martial 
arts specialists in Hong Kong and China, including John 
Woo (b. 1946) and the Vietnamese-born Tsui Hark 
(b. 1950), whose popular action/fantasies such as Suk san: 
Sun Suk san geen hap {Zu: Warriors from the Magic 
Mountain, 1983) have earned him comparison to 
Spielberg. The Matrix also drew inspiration from Japanese 
anime films such as Mamoru Oshii's (b. 1951) Kb kaku 
kidotai {Ghost in the Shell, 1995). One of the first 
anime films to make an impact on Hollywood was 
Katsushiro Otomo's (b. 1954) violent techno-fantasy, 
Akira (1988). And although Hayao Miyazaki's (b. 1941) 
Mononoke-hime {Princess Mononoke, 1997) and Sen to 
chihiro no kamikakushi {Spirited Away, 2001) have not 
been widely viewed in the United States, their box- 
office success in Japan has helped make anime fantasy 
a major movement in international cinema. 


Much that has been written about fantasy focuses on it as 
a literary genre, but it can be equally applied to cinema. 
Although it is common to classify fantasy texts by themes 
and motifs or by the extent to which story-worlds and 
events deviate from realistic representations, Tzvetan 
Todorov concentrates on the response generated by the 
"fantastic" events in the story. In this hght, fantasy must 
be considered not just one "mode," but three, since it 
creates a continuum stretching from "the marvelous" to 



Fantasy Films 

"the uncanny," depending on the extent to which the 
characters and/or the reader experience feehngs of awe 
and hesitation provoked by strange, improbable events. If 
the narrative's impossibility can be explained rationally or 
psychologically (as a dream, hallucinations), then the 
term "uncanny" is applied. The purely "fantastic" comes 
into play only during the hesitation and uncertainty 
experienced by the characters and/or the reader/ viewer 
when faced with an impossible occurrence. By contrast, 
the term "marvelous" is applied to self-contained story 
worlds such as those of The Lord of the Rings or The Dark 
Crystal (1982), which do not ask the reader or viewer to 
question the reality of the story. (J. R. R. Tolkien called 
this "subcreation," also referred to as "High Fantasy.") 

The Wizard of Oz demonstrates all three modes 
operating within a single fantasy. Unlike films that pro- 
pose an alternate, imaginary universe as the setting for 
the entire tale. The Wizard ofOz frames its fantasy world 
with the real world of Kansas, suggesting that Oz is only 
a fantasy of the imagination. In light of Todorov's defi- 
nitions, we can see that upon first encountering Oz, both 
Dorothy and the audience are operating in a "fantastic" 
capacity. But wonder and disbelief eventually give way to 
"marvelous" acceptance, and Dorothy and the audience 
participate in the quest to find the wizard and ultimately 
kill the wicked witch. While Dorothy and the audience 
may continue to "marvel" at the strangeness of creatures 
and events in Oz, it is never suggested that Oz is not 
actually "real" until the end, when the dream explanation 
shifts our understanding of the events into the 
"uncanny" mode. Our prior willing suspension of dis- 
belief only adds to the impact of the final scene, when the 
audience shares Dorothy's consternation at being told it 
was all "only" a dream. 

As a psychological phenomenon, the term "fantasy" 
refers to our unconscious desires (dreams, daydreams, 
wishes). For this reason, Rosemary Jackson notes that 
fantasy stories are perhaps the type of fiction most 
amenable to psychoanalytic interpretations. Although 
Jackson applies her analysis only to fantasy literature, it 
can be easily extrapolated to film. Drawing on Todorov's 
definition, Jackson argues that the fantastic is inherently 
subversive. By raising questions about reality and by 
revealing repressed dreams or wishes, fantasy makes 
explicit what society rejects or refiises to acknowledge. 
Indeed, to the extent that it includes the surreal and 
experimental, fantasy is often explicitly subversive. The 
original surrealists thought art should be shocking and 
politically progressive, and they intentionally disrupted 
those cinematic conventions that help create coherence 
and meaning for the viewer. But most mainstream fan- 
tasy films take care to adhere to the conventions of 
classical cinematic storytelling while constructing coher- 
ent space, time, and narrative causality. Nevertheless, 

horror differs from fantasy in this respect: it is a form 
of mainstream fantasy whose formulaic content is often 
examined for its subversive potential and for symptoms 
of a culture's repressed desires. 

While horror has received much critical attention, 
other types of fantasy are often rejected as being merely 
"escapist" — a term generally associated with works of art 
that one is not supposed to take seriously. Most fantasy 
films are considered escapist because they temporarily 
transport viewers to impossible worlds and provide unre- 
alistic solutions to problems. Even Jackson concedes that 
most fantasy is "marvelous" instead of truly "fantastic," 
more a matter of wish fulfillment than of challenge. 
Indeed, referring to The Lord of the Rings trilogy 
from which the films were adapted, Jackson describes 
Tolkien's fantasy as inherently conservative and nostalgic. 
With its magic, fantastical beings and clear-cut delinea- 
tions of good and evil. The Lord of the Rings presents a 
compelling fantasy mirrored to some extent in the Harry 
Potter films. Many would argue that Harry Potter, like 
The Lord of the Rings, uses imagination to uphold rather 
than to transcend traditional values. Both tend to rein- 
force a hierarchical world based in traditional notions of 
morality, gender, and heroism. Both rely on a sense of 
mystical destiny and grace that, while not explicitly 
religious in nature, exhibits the strong influence of a 
traditional Western and Christian perspective. Both series 
feature a reluctant and somewhat unlikely young hero, 
and both offer the audience an escape into a different 
world where difficult problems are solved through magic 
as well as old-fashioned courage and integrity. The Harry 
Potter films differ from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 
however, in pitting the viewer's own sense of "reality" 
against the m^ical world of wizards and witches. 

A psychoanalytic approach to fantasy must take into 
account not just the psychological underpinnings of the 
characters but the pleasure and appeal of the story for the 
viewer. The most successful fantasy films provide viewers 
with vicarious experiences that resonate with emotional, if 
not physical, reality. Both Harry Potter and The Lord of the 
Rings demonstrate the appeal of fantasy as a vehicle for 
wish fulfillment through their glorification of magical 
(hence unrealistic) solutions to serious problems. The 
viewer lives vicariously through the characters of Frodo 
and Harry, who strive to overcome the forces of evil. The 
psychological appeal of fantasy helps to explain the fre- 
quency of the Oedipal scenario in these types of narratives. 
For example. Star Wars features a classic Oedipal struggle 
between Luke and his father. Superhero movies also con- 
struct appealing fantasy scenarios, often starring unlikely 
or reluctant male heroes reminiscent of Frodo and Harry. 
Superman (1978), Batman (1989), and Spider-Man (2002) 
were popular movies that featured "ordinary" protagonists 
whose unremarkable talents presumably resonate on some 



Fantasy Films 

level with most viewers. This ordinary-ness is revealed as a 
mere facade, however, masking the true superhuman 
powers of the character — another attractive problem- 
solving solution for consumers of fantasy. 

Similarly, many recent supernatural/ghost movies also 
deny the reality of death by magically bringing back 
beloved characters as ghosts, as in Ghost and Truly Madly 
Deeply. A psychoanalytic interpretation of such fantasies, 
however, yields a more subtle interpretation. Whether or 
not such films are wish-fulfillment fantasies matters less 
than whether or not wish-fulfillment fantasies are inher- 
endy conservative. There is certainly nothing subversive 
about a story in which a male character wishes to become 
more macho (as in Spider-Man), for such fantasies merely 
reinforce traditional Western ideas about masculinity, ech- 
oed in many of the fantasy films discussed here. But just 
because some fantasies are conservative does not necessarily 
mean that escapism is a worthless denial of reality and 
therefore of no cultural value. For example, recent melo- 
dramatic and comedy ghost films share a tendency to 
challenge traditional gender roles by creating passive and 
"emasculated" male characters {Ghost, Truly Madly Deeply, 
The Sixth Sense) who contrast sharply with the active male 
protagonists found in most Hollywood movies. 

Regardless of whether or not these and other fantasy 
films are truly subversive or politically liberating, many 
fantasy movies provide an interlude in which viewers are 
invited to entertain forbidden desires and other heretofore 
unimagined possibilities. Thus, to draw on Jean Laplanche 
and Jean-Bertrand PontaHs's definition of fantasy as a 
psychological phenomenon, a fantasy film is thus literally 
the " mise-en-scene of desire," the setting whereby impos- 
sible desires may play out to their logical conclusions. 

SEE ALSO Children's Films; Genre; Horror Films; Science 


Barron, Neil. Fantasy and Horror: A Critical and Historical Guide 
to Literature, Illustration, Film, TV, Radio, and the Internet. 
Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999. 

Brosnan, John. Movie Magic: The Story of Special Effects in the 
Cinema. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974. 

Burgin, Victor, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan, eds. Formations 
of Fantasy. New York: Methuen, and London: Routledge, 

Clute, John, and John Grant, eds. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. 
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. 

Donald, James, ed. Fantasy and the Cinema. London: British 
Film Institute, 1989. 

Fowkes, Katherine A. Giving Up the Ghost: Spirits, Ghosts and 
Angels in Mainstream Comedy Films. Detroit, MI: Wayne 
State University Press, 1998. 

Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. New 
York: Methuen, 1981. 

Laplanche, Jean, and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. "Fantasy and the 
Origins of Sexuality." In Formations of Fantasy, edited by 
Victor Burgin, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan. London: 
Roudedge, 1986. 

Mathews, Richard. Fantasy, the Liberation of the Imagination. 
New York: Twayne, and London: Prentice-Hall, 1997. 

Nicholls, Peter. The World of Fantastic Films: An Illustrated 
Survey. New York: Dodd, Mead, and London: Ebury Press, 

Slusser, George, and Eric S. Rabkin, eds. Shadows of the Magic 
Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film. Carbondale: 
Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. 

Sobchack, Vivian Carol. Screening Space: The American 

Science Fiction Film. Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a 
Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Cleveland, OH: The 
Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1973. 

Tolkien, J. R. R. "On Fairy-Stories." In Tree and Leaf. Boston: 

Houghton Mifflin, 1989. 

Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew, ed. Spectral America: Phantoms and 
the National Imagination. Madison: University of Wisconsin 
Press, 2004. 

Katherine A. Fowkes 




Fashion's relationship to film is characterized by two 
factors: how film has influenced fashion and how fashion 
and the work of specific fashion designers have been used 
in film. These are not mutually exclusive but parallel 
trajectories. The extrovert couturier Elsa Schiaparelli 
(1890-1973) once remarked that what Hollywood did 
today, fashion would do tomorrow, but it could be said 
equally that what fashion did today, cinema would do 
tomorrow. Hollywood, for example, instantly dropped 
its hemlines following the vogue for longer fashions set 
by Jean Patou (1887-1936) in 1929. More commonly, a 
monolithic institution like Hollywood has not always 
been swift to change; once it has found a fashion it likes, 
it tends to stick with it, as was the case with Patou's long, 
bias-cut style, which prevailed with few exceptions 
throughout its films of the 1930s. 


Fashion — or rather the fashionability of film, particularly 
Hollywood's — has always been an important element of 
cinema's appeal. There are many individual examples of 
garments having had a direct impact on off-screen fash- 
ions and sales. For example, one of the designer Adrian's 
(1903-1959) robes for Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton in 
1932, the year Crawford was first named "The Most 
Imitated Woman of the Year," was widely copied, as 
was Edith Head's (1897-1981) white party dress for 
Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951). Head 
herself once declared that she had seen more than thirty 
copies of the dress at a single party. Other elements of a 
movie star's look were mimicked by an adoring film- 
going public: Veronica Lake, for example, was reputedly 
asked to change her peek-a-boo hairstyle because as worn 

by her many female fans, it was causing accidents in the 
wartime factories of the 1940s. Later, one could point to 
the notable effect films such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 
and Annie Hall (1977) had on contemporary fashions. 
Faye Dunaway's thirties wardrobe in Bonnie and Clyde 
has been credited with re-launching the beret and the 
cardigan, while Diane Keaton's androgynous ensembles 
as Annie Hall — created by the American fashion designer 
Ralph Lauren (b. 1939) — were swiftly copied in both the 
exclusive pages of Vogue and on the High Street, where 
the wearing of masculine trousers, shirts, and waistcoats 
by women became the epitome of chic. Through the 
influence of film on fashion, one can see the true democ- 
ratization of the movies and movies' relationship with 
spectatorship: the fans might not be able to become their 
favorite stars, but they can mimic and emulate them. 

Similarly, in contemporary cinema one can see the 
same pattern of mimicry when it comes to both clothes 
and accessories — a crucial difference being that it is now 
more often the male stars who have become fashion icons, 
in keeping with a heightened awareness of male fashion 
that has been evident since the early 1990s. Retro aviator 
shades made a comeback after Tom Cruise wore them in 
Top Gun (1987); after the success of Quentin Tarantino's 
second movie. Pulp Fiction (1994), the black suits and 
monochrome outfits of French designer Agnes (b. 1941) 
(along with Uma Thurman's Chanel "Rouge Noir" nail 
varnish) became synonymous with masculinity and cool. In 
this millennium, one could point to the innate fashion- 
ability of The Matrix (1999): Keanu Reeves's long swishing 
coat, his mobile phone, and his glasses. 

However, fashion's relationship to film extends 
beyond the domain of film's fashionability. In the 1920s, 




Joan Crawford wearing one of Adrian's gowns for Letty 
Lynton (Clarence Brown, 1932). EVERETT collection. 


1930s, and 1940s, few fashion designers did much work 
for films, the notable exception being Chanel (1883- 
1971), who in 1931 went to MGM. Her Hollywood 
film work was not deemed a success; Chanel was too 
meticulous and precise (insisting at one point on 
making several copies of the same dress, one for each 
individual scene), and she soon elected to return to Paris, 
later designing costumes for such films as Louis Malle's Les 
Amants (1958) and Alain Resnais's L'annee derniere a 
Marienbad {Last Year in Marienhad, 1961). The most 
important fashion designers have not always been those 
who have become involved in film and film costume 
design. While the influence of Christian Dior's "New 
Look," launched in 1947, endured within Hollywood far 
longer than it did outside it (so much so that the much 
more fashionable Funny Face [1957] looked slightiy 
anachronistic alongside mid-1950s contemporaries, such 
as Rear Window [1954] and AU That Heaven Allows 

[1955]). Dior himself lent his designs to a relatively small 
and eclectic series of films, including Rene Clair's Le silence 
est d'or {Man About Town, 1947), Jean-Pierre Melville's Les 
enfants terribles (1950), and Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright 

Although historically significant overlaps have 
existed between the two, fashion and costume design 
remain separate arts. Whereas the costume designer, 
more oftien than not, serves the dominant purposes of 
character and narrative, the fashion designer, when used 
in a film, frequently is brought in to achieve virtually the 
opposite result (an exception here would be cinema's use 
of classic designers, such as the Italian Giorgio Armani 
[b. 1934]). In rare instances, individuals have had dual 
careers as fashion and costume designers, the most nota- 
ble example being Jean Louis (1907—1997), who was 
born in Paris and trained at the Paris couture house of 
Drecol before going to New York to work for Hattie 
Carnegie. Louis then made the switch to Hollywood and 
became head designer at Columbia Pictures from 1 944 to 
1958, when he moved to Universal. Simultaneously, 
Louis ran his own couture business, often supplying 
clothes for his favorite female stars (Doris Day, for 
instance) for their appearances both on and off the 
screen. In the same vein, Edith Head (1897-1981) was 
fond of recounting how Grace Kelly was so enamored of 
her designs for To Catch a Thief (1955) that she wore 
one of her costumes on a date with future husband Prince 
Rainier; later Kelly commissioned MGM designer Helen 
Rose (1904-1985) to design her wedding dress and Head 
to design her going-away outfit. 


It was Hubert de Givenchy's (b. 1927) collaboration with 
Audrey Hepburn that fundamentally changed the rela- 
tionship between film and fashion. In Sabrina (1954), as 
in Funny Face, the distinction between the costume 
designer and the couturier co-opted into costume design 
is signaled ironically within the films' Cinderella narra- 
tives. In both, Edith Head, the films' costume designer, 
produced the drab, ordinary clothes that Hepburn wore 
as the still-immature chauffeur's daughter or bookshop 
assistant. In both films. Head's role as designer was 
usurped by Givenchy who designed the show-stopping 
evening gowns that Hepburn wore after her character had 
metamorphosed into a sophisticated, glamorous woman. 
The joke in Funny Face — in which Hepburn's character 
models clothes on a Paris catwalk — is ultimately that, for 
all the appeal of high fashion, Hepburn is happiest (and 
most iconic) when dressing down in black leggings, polo 
neck, and flats. 

Following these films, couturiers it became far more 
commonplace to use couturiers alongside costume 




b. Piacenza, Italy, 11 July 1934 

The Italian designer Giorgio Armani, known for his classic 
designs, neutral tones, and unstructured suits, has made a 
significant intervention into film history. Armani is 
arguably best known for the Hollywood stars he has 
dressed for the Academy Awards® (for example, Jodie 
Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer). However, his costumes for 
Richard Gere's character Julian m American Gigolo (1980) 
helped to alter the way in which mainstream cinema 
perceived and represented masculinity. The most cited 
scene in the movie shows Julian choosing an outfit to wear 
for an evening appointment. He lays out on his bed a 
selection of Armani jackets, then matches them with some 
shirts and finally adds an array of possible ties. While 
choosing what to wear, Julian shimmies sensuously to 
music, dressed only in his boxer shorts. Then he gets 
dressed and checks his appearance in the mirror. Julian's 
overt narcissism, coupled with his love of Armani's 
expensive clothes, ushered in a radical recodification of 
heterosexual masculinity on screen. 

Since American Gigolo, Armani has costumed many 
films, particularly in Hollywood. Sometimes he has 
provided only items for the stars' wardrobes: for Eddie 
Murphy in 48 Hours (1982), Mel Gibson and Rene Russo 
in Ransom (1996), and Samuel L. Jackson in the remake of 
Shafi (2000). By 2000, Armani's name itself had gained 
enough narrative significance for Shaft to be able to warn 
another character possessively not to touch his Armani. 
Dressing male characters has set Armani apart, and he has 
been particularly effective at dressing groups of men. He 
uses costumes to denote camaraderie, support, and 
affection between the protagonists of The Untouchables 

(1987) and characters in the remake of The Italian Job 
(2003), deftly dressing them in the Armani capsule 
wardrobe of the time. In both films, the group's leader 
(Kevin Costner and Donald Sutherland, respectively) 
wears a paternal, safe, and suavely unstructured wool coat, 
while the young turks (Andy Garcia and Mark Wahlberg, 
respectively) wear slightly spiffier leather jackets and 
casuals. This form of typage through costume is 
quintessential Armani. 

Armani has made himself synonymous with effortless 
elegance. This equation was not automatic, because his 
suits were used in the TV series Miami Vice and in 
Cadillac Man (1990) to suggest shallow tackiness. The 
crucial component in his innate class has been his 
Italianness. Most enduring has been his friendship and 
collaboration with Martin Scorsese. The two worked 
together on Made in Milan (1990), a twenty-minute short 
Scorsese directed about Armani that was notable for its 
extravagant and stylized filming of a catwalk show. Armani 
later acted as executive producer for Scorsese's reverential 
history of Italian cinema, // mio viaggio in Italia (1999), 
thus cementing his integration into cinema history. 


American Gigolo (1980), 48 Hours (1982), The Untouchables 
(1987), Cadillac Man (1990), Ransom (1996), II mio viaggio 
in Italia (1999), Shafi (2000), The Italian Job (2003) 


Celant, Germane, and Koda, Harold, eds. Giorgio Armani. 
New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2000. 

Stella Bruzzi 

designers on movies, and certain couturiers were given 
virtual license to use the films on which they worked as 
showcases for their own fashion designs. There is little 
sense here of costume's traditional subservience to char- 
acter and narrative. Hardy Amies (1909-2003) (the 
British Queen's favorite fashion designer) designed the 
wardrobe for fdms such as The Grass Is Greener (I960) 
and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). His designs for the 
latter, though muted compared to much of the 1960s 
"space age" fashion, were very much of their time and 
quintessentially Hardy Amies: classic, refined, but never 

too daring. This incorporation of classic as opposed to 
outrageous fashion designers into film increasingly pre- 
dominated, particularly in Hollywood. In European cin- 
ema, one can point to the example of Yves Saint Laurent 
(b. 1936), whose muse was the French actress Catherine 
Deneuve. Saint Laurent's designs for Deneuve as Severine 
in Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967) epitomized his 
approach: her clothes are straight and muted, notable 
for their unsexy elegance (ironic considering Severine's 
day job as a prostitute), much like Saint Laurent's own 
classic- with-a-twist late- 1 960s lines. Severine is enigmatic 





and unobtainable; her wearing of an Yves Saint Laurent 
capsule wardrobe in Belle de jour (1967) confirms the use 
of fashion as a means of maintaining this distance and 
representing her exclusivity, her wealth, and her class. 

Within Hollywood, the most prolific couturier cos- 
tume designer is Giorgio Armani, whose costumes work 
to define character and narrative. Other designers whose 
work is used in films in a similar way have been Nino 
Cerruti (b. 1930), with whom Armani trained, Ralph 
Lauren (b. 1939), Donna Karan (b. 1948), and Calvin 
Klein (b. 1942), all quintessentially classic designers. 
Lauren's most important film as costume designer is 
The Great Gatsby (1974), soon followed by Annie Hall. 
These two films together defined the retrogressive and 
romantic trends in US fashions that would begin to 
predominate off as well as on the screen in the 1970s. 
The significance of fashion designers' contributions to 
film should perhaps be judged by their ability to manu- 
facture a pervasive image and to evoke a lifestyle. Lauren 
achieved this with his films of the 1970s (the class aspi- 
rations encapsulated by The Great Gatsby, the feminist 
aspirations represented by Keaton's androgynous look in 
Annie Halt), although recently he is probably better 

known for having dressed Gwyneth Paltrow in pink for 
her Academy Award® Best Actress acceptance speech. 
Cerruti's costumes for Richard Gere in Pretty Woman 
(1990) or Karan's for Gwyneth Paltrow in Alfonso 
Cuaron's modern-day Great Expectations (1998), like 
those of Lauren and Cerruti, remain stylish but unob- 
trusive, conjuring a look that connotes a certain class, 
breeding, and refinement. Cinema's most popular coutu- 
rier costume designers, it seems, are those who follow the 
underpinning conventions of costume design and pro- 
duce safe, middle of the road designs rather than more 
spectacular, outrageous costumes. 

Fashion is more often considered a craft than an art, 
and self-consciously artistic, spectacular fashions have 
been reserved for self-consciously spectacular, art-house 
movies. Jean-Paul Gaultier (b. 1952) has been the most 
prolific of these designers, doing costumes for various 
nonmainstream films, including The Cook, the Thief, 
His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), Kika (1993), and La cite 
des enfants perdus {The City of Lost Children, 1995), as 
well as producing all the costumes for Luc Besson's more 
mainstream sci-fi extravaganza. The Fifih Element (1997). 
In all of these, Gaultier's designs are exaggerated versions 
of his signature fashion styles, in the way they make 
underwear into outerwear, juxtapose asymmetrical cut- 
ting with classic tailoring. In Kika, the smooth surface of 
classicism — exemplified by Victoria Abril's black, bias- 
cut dress — is ruptured by radical flourishes, such as the 
prosthetic breasts bursting out of the dress. Gaultier, 
unlike many other fashion designers turned costume 
designers, immerses himself in his films, designing cos- 
tumes for all the characters, not just the protagonists, and 
reputedly checking all costumes before they go on set. 
Just as his designs are fantastical rather than wearable (his 
designs for 77?^ Fifth Element include Gary Oldman's 
asymmetrical suits and Milla Jovovich's minimal bondage 
gear), so Gaultier's personality is important. Unlike 
Armani or Lauren, who have taken their involvement in 
film extremely seriously, Gaultier has not been averse to 
sending himself — and by implication, the fashion world — 
up. Gaultier's personality has demystified high fashion; he 
has appeared as himself in Robert Altman's parody of the 
Paris fashion scene Pret-a-porter (1994), mixing white and 
red wine together to make rose, and from 1993 to 1997 he 
fronted the TV show Eurotrash, a broadcast that, as its title 
suggests, sought out and edited together examples of tra- 
shy, gross, and comic European television. 

The accessibility of fashion in film has become a 
hugely significant factor in its appeal reminiscent of the 
prewar era of Letty Lynton, when women bought patterns 
of their favorite movie dresses to sew them for them- 
selves. Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992), which 
inspired the design of London department store windows 
and led to an increase in the wearing of dark suits and 




shades among younger men, is just such an example of 
film's democratization of fashion. The costume designer 
Betsy Heimann bought the suits seen in Reservoir Dogs 
cheaply. When the film became successful, so did the 
clean-silhouetted French gangster look, which Tarantino 
readily admitted to having borrowed from a look created 
by French director Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) for 
his movie gangsters. Reservoir Dogs offered style on the 
cheap because it offered a look rather than an exclusive 
range of garments. 

Audiences respond positively to being able to buy 
and emulate what they see on the screen — for example, 
Nicole IQdman's half-fitted, half-loose teddy in Eyes 
Wide Shut (1999). Once women found out what the 
garment was, it was sold out everywhere. What has 
emerged is a fluid, flexible interaction between fashion 
and film — sometimes fashion borrows from film, often 
the exchange is reversed. 

SEE ALSO Costume 


Bruzzi, Stella. Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the 
Movies. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. 

Head, Edith, and Jane Kesner Ardmore. The Dress Doctor. Boston 
and Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1959. 

Keenan, Brigid. The Women We Wanted to Look Like. London: 
MacmiUan, 1977. 

Maeder, Edward, ed. Hollywood and History: Costume Design in 
Film. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and 
London: Thames and Hudson, 1987. 

Pritchard, Susan Perez. Film Costume: An Annotated Bibliography. 
Metuchen, NJ, and London: Scarecrow Press, 1981. 

Saint Laurent, Yves. Yves Saint Laurent: Images of Design 

1958-1988. London: Ebury Press, and New York: Knopf, 

WoUen, Peter. "Strike a Pose." Sight and Sound 5, no. 3 (March 
1995): 10-15. 

Stella Bruzzi 




The emergence of the women's hberation movements in 
the late 1960s and early 1970s had a profound impact 
on scholarship as well as on society. Betty Friedan's The 
Feminine Mystique (1963) set the stage for liberation 
movements by detailing middle-class women's isolation, 
even oppression, within the suburban household. 
Women's roles in the antinuclear movements, such as 
the Aldermaston marches in the United Kingdom or 
SANE (Students Against Nuclear Energy) in the 
United States, further served as catalysts in the mid- 
1960s within diverse social sectors. For example, women 
within the male-dominated Students for a Democratic 
Society (SDS) began to resist their relegation to food 
preparation and child care, and to argue for women's 
rights to be included in the SDS agenda. In NUC (the 
New University Community), a faculty wing of SDS, 
pressure increased in regard to addressing women's 
issues, such as discriminatory employment practices, 
unfair divorce laws, and attention to medical and bio- 
logical issues specific to women. Independent Marxist- 
feminist groups emerged along with so-called radical 
feminists, often linked to lesbian-centered groups. 
Protests and demonstrations on behalf of women's rights 
regarding sexual choice, day care, and equality in the 
workplace pushed women's liberation into the public 
spotlight. Gradually public awareness and involvement 
in debates about feminist issues increased. Meanwhile, 
female perspectives, long neglected in mainstream aca- 
demic research, began to gain the attention of historians 
and literary and film scholars. Indeed, these two faces of 
feminism can hardly be separated: Academic women 
were often actively involved in working for social change 
on a range of women's issues, while activist women often 

enjoyed the support of universities in furthering their 

Women film scholars were among the first to reject 
the traditional male-centered perspectives in academia 
and, with Copernican force, to reverse the position from 
which texts were approached to engage a female-centered 
one. With Sexual Politics (1970), a forceful critique of 
misogyny in the male modern novel and of Freud's male- 
centered psychoanalytic theories, Kate Millett burst on 
the literary scene and was soon followed by other (less 
vitriolic) feminist literary critics. Women film scholars, 
too, eagerly took up the baton. Meanwhile, male film 
theory (especially in England) introduced structuralist 
approaches in the wake of research by scholars such as 
Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Lacan. In 
this context, some feminist film theory also turned to 
neo-Marxism, structuralism, and psychoanalysis in ways 
not so common at the time in feminist literary analyses. 
Feminist critics began to look at the ways in which 
women were represented on film as well as to expose 
the utter neglect of female directors in male scholarship; 
in the wake of these initiatives, film scholarship was never 
again the same. Three main strands (in practice, often 
mixed) emerged early on in feminist film theory: 
"archival" and historical approaches, sociological role- 
focused approaches, and what has been called cine- 
psychoanalysis. A certain coherence within the limited 
frame of 1970s and 1980s feminist film research can 
be demonstrated, built around the concept of the 
gendered gaze of the camera; but in the 1990s, as a 
result of changing political, social, and intellectual 
contexts, including the waning of feminism as a wide- 
spread activist movement, several alternate perspectives 




developed. There was the flood of research by minority 
and women of the Third World (itself a problematic 
and much-debated term). Masculine studies, inspired 
by feminist theory, emerged, as well as queer studies, 
which severely challenged some of the concepts basic 
to feminist film theories. Finally, the introduction of 
new interdisciplinary fields like visual studies and dig- 
ital media, related to film studies, had the effect of 
broadening the somewhat narrow gaze-related theories 
to consider historical, technological, and institutional 
contexts given short shift in cine-psychoanalysis. 
Second-wave feminist theorists have further revised 
gaze theories. 


In tandem with ongoing scholarship in history and liter- 
ature, women film scholars have long endeavored to iden- 
tify forgotten filmmakers — forgotten because most male 
film critics and scholars writing before the 1 960s were not 
interested in women directors. Because their films were in 
distribution, Dorothy Arzner (1 897-1979) and Ida 
Lupino (1914—1995) were the first women directors in 
the sound era to be studied. Foreign directors, like Mai 
Zetterling (1925-1994), also gained attention at this time. 
Later, feminists took a great deal of interest in women 
directors and producers from the silent era, like Lois 
Weber (1881-1939) and Mary Pickford (1892-1979). 
Since the 1990s, the Women Film Pioneers Project has 
been engaged in intensive international study of early 
women in cinema in their many roles. 

Sociological analysis of women in film soon fol- 
lowed. Three books on women and film emerged at 
nearly the same time in the early 1970s, mainly using a 
sociological and role-focused analysis: Molly Haskell's 
From Reverence to Rape (1973), Marjorie Rosen's 
Popcorn Venus (1972), and Joan Mellen's Women and 
Their Sexuality in the New Film (1974). Although per- 
haps insufficiently appreciated by academic feminists 
in its historical moment, Haskell's book has had the 
longest-lasting impact. Feminist film theorists of the time, 
frustrated by sociological and role analyses, were seeking 
to move beyond Haskell's approach. Drawing on a vast 
knowledge of Hollywood as an institution and of movies 
themselves, Haskell took a penetrating look at the shabby 
treatment of women on- and offscreen. She had a strong 
feminist understanding of how threatened American 
men felt by women, as well as an intense appreciation 
of actresses and their performances. Haskell points out 
the irony that both the Production Code and the 
Depression "brought women out of the bedroom and 
into the office" (p. 30). She argues that actresses of the 
1930s and 1940s (such as Rosalind Russell, Katharine 

Hepburn, and Joan Crawford) offered images of intelli- 
gence, forcefulness, and personal power, far surpassing 
roles of actresses in later films. Male directors who "inte- 
grate women into the flow of life" enjoyed the spunky, 
smart woman capable of challenging the hero. Haskell 
defines herself as a film critic first and a feminist second, 
hoping to address "the wholeness and complexity of film 
history" (p. 38). 

A new generation of women film scholars turned to 

the melded disciplines of metaphysics, semiotics, and 
psychoanalysis, a shift prompted by what they saw as 
the limits of studies focusing on individual actresses and 
women's roles in cinema. To compare images of women 
in film with women's lived reality seemed simply to 
critique the current gendered organization of society or 
to expand it by, for instance, insisting on more male 
involvement in domestic matters. The new scholars 
hoped instead to discover the root cause of women's 
secondary status in Hollywood and society in the first 
place. Laura Mulvey's groundbreaking essay, "Visual 
Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975), pardy inspired 
by reaction to American sociological film analyses, 
seemed to fulfill the need for a new kind of analysis, 
and her ideas rapidly took hold. Mulvey's polemical 
contribution was to isolate three related "looks" in 
Hollywood cinema, and to argue that these were all male: 
the look of the camera (mainly operated by men) in the 
pro-filmic studio site; the look of the spectator, which of 
necessity followed the camera's masculine gaze; and the 
dominating look of male characters within the filmic 
narrative, depriving women of agency and subjectivity. 
Theorizing the cinematic gaze from a psychoanalytic 
perspective, Mulvey argued that in film viewing the 
screen paralleled Jacques Lacan's mirror phase in which 
the child misrecognized his perfect self. Cinema was set 
up so that men could identify with the idealized male 
hero within the symbolic order as presented by the nar- 
rative, while women were left: to identify with figures 
relegated to inferior status and silenced. Mulvey was 
one of the first to appropriate psychoanalysis as a political 
weapon to demonstrate how the patriarchal unconscious 
has structured film form. The essay's significance derived 
in part from her vivid language: "Woman's desire is 
subjugated to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound: 
she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot 
transcend it." Man, she argued, can live out his fantasies 
by "imposing them on the silent image of woman still 
tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning" 
{Visual and Other Pleasures, p. 14). 

In the wake of Mulvey's deliberately polemical 
essays, certain tropes and conventions began to develop 
in relation to a "male" gaze and the three "looks" that 
Mulvey outlined. In addition, British and American tele- 
vision studies had an impact on psychoanalytic feminist 




b. San Francisco, California, 3 January 1897, d. 1 October 1979 

Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino were the only female 
directors in the classical Hollywood era (roughly 1930 to 
1960). Both received scant attention until scholars began to 
study film fi-om a feminist perspective. After serving her 
apprenticeship in Hollywood, first as typist and then as 
screenwriter and successfial film editor, Arzner directed films 
for Paramount from 1927 to 1933, when she left to make 
films independently. She retired from filmmaking in 1 943 
for reasons that remain unclear but perhaps have to do with 
her health or the exhaustion of working in a male-dominated 
establishment. Despite Arzner's short Hollywood career, she 
made several important films, including Christopher Strong 
(1933), Craig's Wife (1936), and Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), 
that now belong to a canon of what have been called 
"resisting" Hollywood melodramas. 

Although many of her films appear to conform to 
Hollywood's patriarchal ideology — something Arzner no 
doubt was carefiil to do to keep her job — there is often a 
critical undertow to her narratives. In Christopher Strong 
Katharine Hepburn plays an independent, pioneering 
female pilot. Lady Cynthia Darrington (loosely modeled on 
Amelia Earhart) . In love with a married man by whom she 
has become pregnant, she apparently commits suicide when 
attempting to break an aviation record. Arzner clearly 
intends the viewer to identify with the courageous female 
aviation pioneer, and to see in her suicide her sense of 
responsibility both toward Strong's wife and her unborn 
child. Craig's Wife offers a contrasting type of heroine and 
demands other kinds of identification from the viewer. 
Harriet Craig (Rosalind Russell) dominates her daughter. 

intervenes in her love life, and tries to prevent her from 
marrying the man she adores. Although it is hard to identify 
with Harriet, Arzner manages to show how the entire 
upper-middle-class family system produces women like her. 

Dance, Girl, Dance offers an interesting insight into 
the often degrading lives of female performers. The film's 
perhaps dated binary opposition between "high" and 
"low" female performance art — presented as an 
opposition between a ballerina (Maureen O'Hara) and a 
sexy dancer (Lucille Ball) — nevertheless allows her to 
critique the male gaze and to reveal the crudity of male 
voyeurism. Women, the film suggests, are split apart 
because of what men want from them. Thus, in her films 
Arzner is able to render "strange" the patriarchal ideology 
pervasive in classical Hollywood cinema. 


Christopher Strong (1933), Craig's Wife (1936), Dance, Girl, 
Dance (1940) 


Johnston, Claire, ed. The Work of Dorothy Arzner: Toward a 
Feminist Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1975. 

Kaplan, E. Ann. Motherhood and Representation: The Mother 
in Popular Culture and Melodrama. London and New 
York: Roudedge, 1992, 2000. 

Mayne, Judith. Directed by Dorothy Arzner. Bloomington and 
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994. 

Surer, Jacqueline. "Feminine Discourse in Christopher 
Strong!' Camera Obscura 1, no. 2 (1979): 135-150. 

E. Ann Kaplan 

film theory, for the medium of TV necessitated different 
theories of the spectator— screen relationship. These the- 
ories were seen to have some application to film, expand- 
ing the rather restricted notion that there was just one 
"male" gaze. 

Mulvey's essay was often misread as a depressing 
description of woman's fate rather than as a call to action. 
Mulvey in fact believed that psychoanalytic theory could 
advance our understanding of the position of women and 
thereby enable women to move forward. Her effort to 
challenge the pleasures of Hollywood cinema arose from 
Hollywood's reliance on voyeurism — the male gaze at the 

woman deprived of agency. Her polemical call "to free 
the look of the camera into its materiality in time and 
space and the look of the audience into dialectics and 
passionate detachment" (p. 26) clearly related to her own 
practice (together with Peter Woilen) as an avant-garde 

Mulvey's article prompted a good deal of research, as 
well as intelligent critiques of her theories. Early on, 
E. Ann Kaplan's Women and Film (1983) tried to straddle 
some of the debates about feminist film theory ongoing 
in the 1970s. Asking why some women were so strongly 
drawn to psychoanalysis and poststructuralism, she 




Dorothy Arzner in the 1930s. EVERETT collection. 


argued that pointing to social oppression per se could not 
account for women's second-class status. Attention to 
language and the unconscious seemed to offer some hope 
of understanding what increasingly seemed a mystery 
that biology — namely, that women gave birth and were 
needed to care for children and that this very function 
limited what they could achieve — could not explain. Too 
many exceptions showed that women could overcome or 
deal with their biological roles; there had to be something 
deeper, something much harder to change than social 
policies or cultural norms. 

Like other work in the field at the time, Kaplan's 
conception of the feminine, given its generally heterosex- 
ual and Eurocentric focus and orientation, was appa- 
rently a monolithic "woman" who was really a white. 
Western woman, neglecting the specificity of minority 
and other marginalized women. A bit later, David 
Rodowick pointed out that Mulvey did not attend to 
Freud's complex remarks about the contradictoriness of 
desire that calls into question strict gender binaries such 
as male/female and activity/passivity. Mary Ann Doane 
extended Mulvey's research, pursuing avenues that 
Mulvey only touched on. For example, Doane intro- 

duced the concept of the female body in its relation to 
the psyche, as against the prior focus on image and 
psyche. She contrasted representation of the female body 
in Hollywood and in avant-garde cinema, influencing 
later research. Doane also contrasted male and female 
distance from the image, arguing that for the male the 
distance between film and spectator must be maintained, 
whereas the female overidentifies with the image, oblit- 
erating the space between viewer and screen, thereby 
producing a degree of narcissism. Turning to Joan 
Riviere's concept of the female masquerade, Doane 
explores what it might mean to "masquerade" as a spec- 
tator. She concludes that there are three possible posi- 
tions for the female spectator: the masochism of 
overidentification with the image, the narcissism involved 
in becoming one's own object of desire, and the possi- 
bility of cross-gender identification, as women choose to 
identify with the male hero. Doane objects to theories of 
repression because they lack feminine power, instead 
taking the position that women need to develop a theory 
of spectatorship apart from those that male culture has 
constructed for them. 

Gaylyn Studlar has suggested that a focus on pre- 
Oedipality makes more sense than the conventional 
attention to Oedipal scenarios for explaining how films 
construct gendered spectators. Substituting Gilles 
Deleuze's study of Sacher-Masoch's novels for Mulvey's 
Freudian/Lacanian framework, she argues that maso- 
chism can also ground narrative. Studlar replaces 
Oedipal sadism with pre-Oedipal pleasure, viewing mas- 
ochism as a "subversive" desire that affirms the compel- 
ling power of the pre-Oedipal mother. 


As these debates show, there was never any uniformity 
within cine-psychoanalysis about the gaze, or about what 
kind of psychoanalysis was most appropriate to cinematic 
modes. But with its binarisms, psychoanalytic film theo- 
ries fitted the Cold War era in that they looked back to 
nineteenth-century Europe and reflected a world fixed on 
a framework in which communism versus capitalism was 
a subtext. Freud's theories enabled an understanding of 
the neuroses produced in the nineteenth-century bour- 
geois family — itself the anchoring institution for the 
Industrial Revolution. In this light, using psychoanalysis 
in a critique of capitalist ideology made sense. In the 
years since 1983, US culture and society have changed 
dramatically, as have international relations. It took the 
collapse of the Soviet Union to open space for rethinking 
imperialism and it took the increased flows of peoples 
across borders and into the academy to encourage new 
perspectives, such as postmodernism and its related 




As cine-psychoanalytic theories began to seem rather 
formulaic — despite the efforts of Doane and other schol- 
ars to underscore the complexities and penetrating ques- 
tions that such theory involved, and despite Mulvey's 
own continuing "corrections" to her polemical 1975 
essay — more resistance to gaze theories arose. In the 
1980s B. Ruby Rich, Gayle Arbuthnot, Sue-Ellen Case, 
and other gay women offered strong critiques emerging 
from their alternate perspectives (even if these were not so 
explicitly marked as "lesbian" as in later work). It was 
primarily the dominance of French structuralism — 
Lacanian theories, Saussurian semiotics, and 
Althusserian Marxism — in gaze theories that troubled 
critics, along with the obvious heterosexual foundation 
on which the theories were based. It was this foundation 
that Teresa De Lauretis so profoundly interrogated. 
Working with Freud's and Luce Irigaray's theories 
among others, De Lauretis notes the intimate relation- 
ship of sexual and social indifference in Western culture 

for centuries — a link that served to bolster colonial con- 
quest and racist violence — before turning to examine 
lesbian representation through diverse attempts of lesbian 
writers and artists to deploy their struggles in ways that 
engage the body as linked to language and meaning. 
Meanwhile, the so-called Stella Dallas debate, referring 
to the 1937 film in which Barbara Stanwyck portrays a 
woman who gives up her beloved daughter in hopes of 
giving her a better life among more "respectable" people, 
dramatized differences emerging in feminist fdm theory. 
Kaplan argued that fdmic identification with the figure of 
Stella invited audiences to accept as proper her giving up 
her daughter and therefore forgoing motherhood through 
her internalization of patriarchal familial norms. By con- 
trast, Linda Williams argued that the film invited audi- 
ences to share multiple points of view, and that Stella's 
actions could be seen as showing strength and agency. 
Responses published in Cinema Journal between 1984 
and 1985 opened for debate and critique some of the 




b. Oxford, England, 15 August 1941 

Laura Mulvey could not have anticipated the widespread 
impact of her short polemical essay, "Visual Pleasure and 
Narrative Cinema," published in 1975 in the British 
journal Screen. The essay's psychoanalytic formulation of a 
"male gaze," and its condemnation of classical Hollywood 
cinema's patriarchal bias, immediately provoked interest, 
debate, and in some quarters dismay. Those who 
appreciated Mulvey's theories went on, as did Mulvey 
herself in her extensive writings, to deepen, adjust, and 
further her insights; those who responded negatively to the 
essay were challenged to articulate why, and in so doing to 
develop other theories. Much of the criticism of the essay 
called into question its strong psychoanalytic stance, 
shortchanging its political argument. Since the essay's 
publication, debates within film theory about the utility of 
psychoanalytic theories have continued. 

In a subsequent essay published in 1981, 
"Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' 
inspired by King Vidor's Duel in the Sun" Mulvey 
addressed persistent questions about her lack of attention 
to the material female spectator in her "Visual Pleasure" 
essay. She noted that she was less interested in the female 
spectator who resists the "masculinization" that 
Hollywood cinema demands than the one who secretly 
enjoys the freedom of action and agency that identifying 
with the male protagonist offers. Using Freudian theories 
about female sexuality as well as Vladimir Propp's analysis 
of narrative structure in folk tales, Mulvey examined the 

difficulty of sexual difference in the western Duel in the 
Sun (1946). 

Mulvey is also a filmmaker and has made several with 
Peter WoUen, including Penthesilea (1974), Riddles of the 
Sphinx (1977), and Amy! (1979). These films reflect 
Mulvey's theoretical views of Hollywood cinema, 
exploring the difficulty of representing the feminine in a 
patriarchal world. In each film the struggles of women in 
patriarchy are transformed by placing them within the 
discourses of psychoanalysis and history. Some of the films 
make reference to Hollywood cinema — Amy!, for example, 
refers specifically to Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong — 
in order to examine the ideological bases of that film. 


Penthesilea (1974), Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), Amy! (1979) 

Fischer, Lucy. Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women 's 
Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. 

Kaplan, E. Ann. Motherhood and Representation: The Mother 
in Popular Culture and Melodrama. London and New 
York: Roudedge, 1992, 2000. 

. Women in Film: Both Sides of the Camera. London 

and New York: Roudedge, 1983, 2000. 

Mulvey, Laura. Fetishism and Curiosity. Bloomington: 

Indiana University Press, 1996. 
. Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana 

University Press, 1989. 

E. Ann Kaplan 

assumptions in feminist film theory of the time and 
introduced research on images of the mother in cinema. 

Objections to cine-psychoanalysis included: 
1) objection to psychoanalytic film criticism's obvious 
heterosexism; 2) its apparent exclusion of the body; 
3) its equally apparent pessimism about social change 
because of investment in linguistic theories; 4) its incip- 
ient "whiteness"; and 5) its a- or even antihistorical bias. 
Scholars critiquing psychoanalytic theories refused the 
inherently Cartesian mind-body split; denied that lan- 
guage was totally determining; attended to cinematic 
practices and representations of minority. Third World, 
and gay women; and, finally, corrected the lack of basic 
historical information by seeking to find out what 

women had actually accomplished in Hollywood from 
its earliest days. If earlier gay and lesbian critiques antici- 
pated the explosion in gay and lesbian approaches to 
film, as well as the related "queering" of gender images 
and psychoanalysis, later work was inspired by Judith 
Butler's theory of gender as performative rather than 
biological. Black and Latino studies were instituted as 
more minority students attended college, and debates 
about US and international racism raged. Inspired work 
in feminist film and cultural studies began to develop, led 
by African American critics and filmmakers, such as bell 
hooks, Michele Wallace, Jacqueline Bobo, and Julie 
Dash. In Black Looks: Race and Representation, for exam- 
ple, hooks justly criticized feminist theorists for their lack 




of attention to the specificity of race in film. Building on 
white feminists' gaze theories, hooks coined the term 
"the oppositional gaze" as she shifted the point of view 
in a series of readings to the gaze of the hitherto 
oppressed black subject, whose look at white culture 
was for so long forbidden. Carol Clover moved gaze 
theories forward, and feminism backward perhaps, in 
her groundbreaking 1992 study of the horror film, the 
genre in which emerges, she argues, a gender crossing 
that is liberating for males. Heroines in slasher films, she 
says, are "transformed males," and what looks like male- 
on-female violence stands in for male-on-male sex. 
Clover goes on to show, however, that this gender game, 
once observed, applies in other kinds of film in which, 
perhaps in response to feminist agendas and analyses, 
males appropriate the female form for their own ends 
and desires, a process that challenges gender-specific the- 
ories of identification. 

The directions in which the field grew and changed, 
through its destabilization by questions raised by minor- 
ity, gay, and Third World women, eroded older, 
seemingly secure binaries of feminist film theory. 
Psychoanalytic theories of the gaze no longer were central 
to feminist analysis. However, these ideas then informed 
"masculinity" studies of Steve Neale, Krin Gabbard, and 
Peter Lehman, which followed feminist film theory and 
which were part of the shift: from feminist film theory to 
gender studies in film. Within feminist scholarship, 
approaches broadened to combine historical, sociological, 
psychological, and genre aspects in research by Miriam 
Hansen, Lucy Fischer, Annette Kuhn, and Janice Welsch, 
among others. Hansen's study of gender in early 
American cinema brought feminist theory to silent cin- 
ema studies, while Kuhn's cultural studies approach 
includes an ethnographic study of cinema viewing prac- 
tices through interviews with elderly London residents. 

A solid body of feminist research, including feminist 
film theory, has provided the foundation for much cul- 
tural work by third-wave feminists, whose interest in 
cross-identification, transvestism, and transgender images 
is taking feminist work in new directions. Psychoanalysis 
may not be the central focus of many studies, but, like 
gaze theory, it is now being revised to fit new family 
paradigms, digital media, and phenomena of late global 
capitalism. Although the pioneers of feminist film theory 
have moved on to new topics, feminist theory continues 
to be relevant to film scholarship. A great deal has been 
written about feminist film theory and its vicissitudes, 
including many edited anthologies. Significantly, in 2004 
the prestigious journal Signs devoted an entire issue to 

reevaluating feminist film theory. Almost from its ori- 
gins, feminist film theory has been defined by lively 
debates; but important also are the strong links between 
the feminist movement and feminist scholarship, which 
have persisted as feminisms have arisen and waned and 
then reemerged in different environments. 

SEE ALSO Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Cinema; Gender; 
Marxism; Melodrama; Psychoanalysis; Queer Theory; 
Woman 's Pictures 


Clover, Carol. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the 
Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University 
Press, 1992. 

De Lauretis, Teresa. The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and 
Perverse Desire. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University 
Press, 1994. 

Doane, Mary Ann. "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the 
Female Spectator."5crd'fw 24 (September-October 1982): 


. "Woman's Stake: Filming the Female Body." In 

Feminism and Film, edited by E. Ann Kaplan, 86-118. 
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 

Gledhill, Christine, ed. Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in 
Melodrama and the Woman 's Film. London: British Film 
Institute, 1987. 

Hansen, Miriam. Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American 
Silent Film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. 

Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women 
in the Movies. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago 
Press, 1987. 

hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South 
End Press, 1992. 

Kaplan, E. Ann. Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera. 
London and New York: Rouriedge, 1983, 2000. 

Kuhn, Annette. Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality, 1909—1925. 
London and New York: Routledge, 1988. 

Mellen, Joan. Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film. New 
York: Horizon Press, 1974. 

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." In 
Visual and Other Pleasures, 14—26. Bloomington: Indiana 
University Press, 1989. 

Rodowick, David. "The Difficulty of Difference." Wide Angle 5, 
no. 1 (1982): 4-15. 

Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the 
American Dream. New York: Avon Books, 1973. 

Studlar, Gaylyn. In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, 
and the Masochistic Aesthetic. New York: Columbia University 
Press, 1988. 

E. Ann Kaplan 




A film festival is an event designed to exhibit, celebrate, 
and promote a selection of motion pictures chosen 
according to the particular aims and ambitions of the 
event's organizers and sponsors. Although the exact ori- 
gin of the term "film festival" is difficult to determine, its 
near-universal use probably stems more from its alliter- 
ative lilt than from its precision as a descriptive tool. 
Most film festivals do have characteristics that can be 
described as festive, such as gala opening ceremonies 
and guest appearances by directors and celebrities. Still, 
the events are generally taken quite seriously by the movie 
buffs, film-industry insiders, and journalists who attend 
them. Many find festivals to be occasions for prolonged 
and intensive activity including long hours of screenings, 
press conferences, question-and-answer sessions, and net- 
working with like-minded professionals and fans. 

Beyond these aspects it is hard to generalize about 
film festivals, which vary widely in their purposes and 
goals. Some are regional, focusing on productions with 
limited budgets and ambitions and appealing primarily 
to local audiences. Others are national or international, 
drawing attendees from near and far by showcasing a 
diverse array of movies from many countries. Some have 
expansive programs with hundreds of titles, whereas 
others limit their slates to a modest number of rigorously 
selected entries. Some are eclectic and all-embracing in 
scope; others have specific interests with regard to genre 
or format, specializing in such areas as animation, docu- 
mentary, short films, gay and lesbian films, and films for 
children. Some give prizes to films, filmmakers, and 
performers; others deliberately avoid this practice. Few 
rules for film-festival organizing exist beyond knowing 
what might currently attract cinema enthusiasts. 


The origin of film festivals can be traced to the rise of 
film societies and cine-clubs, which sprang up in various 
countries during the 1920s, often as a reaction to what 
many regarded as the dominance of the newly powerful 
Hollywood film industry over the cinemas of less well- 
endowed nations and over noncommercial movements 
devoted to such causes as documentary and avant-garde 
film. Such clubs and societies flourished in countries as 
different as France, where they fostered the emergence of 
the historically important impressionist and surrealist 
cinemas, and Brazil, where they provided the only 
consistent outlet for domestically produced movies. 
Although most film clubs and societies were in Western 
Europe, some were established in Latin America and the 
United States as well. As such groups grew and spread, 
they started to arrange international conclaves where their 
members — many of whom were practicing or aspiring 
filmmakers — could share ideas and inspirations without 
regard to national borders. Activities like these were the 
predecessors and prototypes of film festivals per se. 

The first true film festival came into being as a direct 
result of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's (1883-1945) 
enthusiasm for motion pictures as a tool for political 
public relations and propaganda. Eager to spur the devel- 
opment of state-run Italian cinema in the face of com- 
petition from Hollywood and elsewhere, he spent lavishly 
to build up the native film industry while imposing heavy 
taxation on the dubbing of foreign-language movies, thus 
hampering their distribution and exhibition. Among the 
cultural projects he chose to support through his 
Ministry of Information was the already existing Venice 
Biennial Exhibition of Italian Art, which gave birth to the 




International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art in 
August 1932 as part of an effort to make the Biennial 
more varied and multidisciplinary in content. The first 
cinema program commenced with the premiere of 
the horror classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben 
Mamoulian, 1931) and included twenty-four other 
entries from seven countries. The declared purpose of 
the exhibition was to allow "the light of art to shine over 
the world of commerce," but it soon became clear that 
power politics were a major subtext of the event. In 1935, 
its first year as an annually scheduled festival, it marked 
the ongoing rise of European fascism by instituting offi- 
cial prizes in place of the popularity poll and "participa- 
tion diploma" of the 1932 program. This paved the way 
not only for a yearly Best Italian Film award but also for 
productions of Nazi Germany, an Italian ally at that 
time, to win the Best Foreign Film laurel four times 
between 1936 and 1942. The arrangement also allowed 
Leni Riefenstahl's (1902-2003) two-part Olympia 
(1938), a paean to Aryan supremacy in the 1936 
Olympic Games, to share the highest prize (the 
Mussolini Cup) in 1938 with an Italian drama about a 
fascist soldier in the Ethiopian campaign. It seemed 
hardly coincidental that Mussolini's oldest son, 
Vittorio, appeared in the credits as "supervisor" of the 
latter film. American and British members of the festival 
jury resigned as soon as these awards were made public. 

French participants in the festival also walked out, 
protesting the Mussolini Cup decisions and expressing 
belated anger over the 1937 veto by festival authorities of 
a top prize for Jean Renoir's great war drama La grande 
illusion {The Grand Illusion, 1937), the much-admired 
French entry. This proved to be an unoIRcial first step 
toward the establishment of a French film festival 
designed to outdo and overshadow its Italian counter- 
part, which was now politically and morally tainted in 
the eyes of much of the cultural world. The cinema 
authority Robert Favre le Bret and the historian 
Philippe Erlanger, who was chief of an organization 
called Action Artistique Franjais, headed the committee 
charged with creating such a festival, and pioneering 
filmmaker Louis Lumiere (1864-1948) served as the 
group's president. Overcoming fears that such a move 
would provoke Mussolini's anger, the French govern- 
ment declared its willingness to provide necessary fund- 
ing, and a few months later the Riviera city of Cannes — 
having staved off competition from sundry French, 
Belgian, and Swiss cities — started planning a state-of- 
the-art Palais des Festivals to house the new event. 

Other, smaller festivals had sprung up in the wake of 
Venice's early success, but it was the advent of Cannes that 
established the film festival as a staple of the modern 
cultural scene. Formally dubbed the Cannes International 
Film Festival, it debuted in September 1939, a time of year 

selected so as to extend the traditional tourist season by a 
couple of weeks. The program included The Wizard of Oz 
(1939) and Only Angels Have Wings. Gary Cooper, Mae 
West, Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Shearer, and Tyrone 
Power were on the "steamship of stars" dispatched to 
Cannes by Hollywood's mighty MGM studio. A cardboard 
model of the Cathedral de Notre-Dame was erected on the 
beach, heralding William Dieterle's (1893—1972) version 
of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) as the festival's 
opening-night attraction. In a shocking twist, however, the 
opening film was the only film to be screened: Germany's 
invasion of Poland on the same day (1 September) led the 
festival's leaders to close its doors only hours after they had 
opened. The doors would not reopen until September 
1946. (Ironically, the Venice festival also reopened in 
1946 after three years of suspension due to the chaos of 
World War II.) Despite technical problems — projection 
glitches interrupted the opening-night screening, and reels 
of Alfred Hitchcock's (1899-1980) thriller Notorious 
(1946) were shown out of order — the Cannes program of 
1946 was a great success. Still, the 1947 edition was dimin- 
ished by the absence of such major countries as England 
and the Soviet Union, and the 1948 program was canceled. 
Not until 1951 did Cannes become a dependable yearly 
event, changing its dates to the spring, when more major 
movies are available. Since then it has reigned as the world's 
most prestigious and influential film festival, attraaing 
thousands of journalists to its daylong press screenings 
and armies of industry professionals to both the festival 
and the Film Market held concurrendy in the Palais and 
theaters scattered throughout the city. 

Festivals proliferated at a growing rate in Europe and 
elsewhere during the 1950s, affirming the ongoing artis- 
tic (and commercial) importance of film at a time when 
global warfare was becoming a memory and world cul- 
ture was energetically entering the second half of the 
twentieth century. Politics played a far smaller role in 
this phase of festival history than when the Venice and 
Cannes festivals were founded, but political considera- 
tions did not entirely vanish from the scene. The large 
and ambitious Berlin International Film Festival, for 
example, was established in 1951, presenting itself as a 
geographical and artistic meeting ground between East 
and West as the Cold War climbed into high gear. This 
was not an easy position to assume, given that socialist 
nations of the Eastern bloc did not participate officially 
until 1975, although individual films did represent such 
countries in the program from time to time. 

The most important new festival to emerge in the 
1960s was the New York Film Festival, founded in 1963 
at Lincoln Center, one of the city's leading cultural 
venues. Modeled to some extent after the London Film 
Festival, the New York festival took advantage of Lincoln 
Center's enormous prestige in the artistic community — 




as home to such various institutions as the Metropohtan 
Opera and the New York Philharmonic, among others — 
to underwrite the aesthetic pedigree of the art films, 
avant-garde works, and documentaries that dominated 
its programs. Such cinema found an enthusiastic (if 
limited) audience at a time when sophisticated spectators 
were unusually receptive to innovative foreign movies 
(from Europe and Japan especially) presented in their 
original languages with subtitles. Unlike the heavily pro- 
grammed festivals at Cannes and Berlin, the New York 
festival showed a limited quantity of films — about two 
dozen features and a similar number of shorts, chosen by 
a five-member selection committee — and it declined to 
give prizes, asserting that its highly selective nature made 
every work shown there a "winner." 

Two key events in film-festival history took place in 
the 1970s. The first was the 1976 debut of the Toronto 
International Film Festival, originally known as the 
Festival of Festivals, a name that underscored its commit- 
ment to importing major attractions from other festivals 
for Canadian audiences. Its first year was marred by the 
withdrawal of expeaed contributions from some 
Hollywood studios, apparendy because its Toronto audi- 
ence base was considered too parochial. Still, in subsequent 
years it has grown into one of the most all-embracing 
festivals in the world, with an annual slate ranging 
from domestic productions to international art films 
and (ironically) more Hollywood products than are likely 
to be found at any comparable event. Canada also hosts 
two other major festivals, the Montreal World Film 
Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival. 

The other major development of the 1970s was the 
founding of the United States Film Festival in Salt Lake 
City in 1978, devised by the Utah Film Commission as a 
means of spotlighting the state's assets as a site for film 
production. After concentrating its energies on retrospec- 
tives and discussion-centered events for three years, dur- 
ing which it also sponsored a nationwide competition for 
new independent films, the event moved to the smaller 
community of Park City in 1981 and began to seek a 
higher profile. It was acquired in 1985 by actor Robert 
Redford (b. 1936) and the four-year-old Sundance 
Institute, which Redford had established to foster the 
growth of "indie" filmmaking outside the Hollywood 
system. Renamed the Sundance Film Festival in 1989, 
it has become an eagerly covered media event as well as a 
wide-ranging showcase for both independent and inter- 
national productions. 

Alongside the attention-getting world-class festivals, 
over a thousand more modest events have cropped up. 
Some have tried to establish uniqueness by using a word 
other than "festival" in their names, such as the French- 
American Film Workshop held in New York and 

Avignon, France, and the Lake Placid Film Forum in 
upstate New York, which emphasizes relationships 
between cinema and the written word. Major festivals 
also exist outside the United States and Europe, such 
as the Ouagadougou Festival in the African nation 
of Burkina Faso and the Shanghai and Tokyo festivals 
in Asia. 


Festivals vary in how they choose their films and what 
types they show, in the degree of geographical diversity 
they seek, in their willingness to give prizes, and in many 
other respects. The New York Film Festival presents 
films chosen by a five-member selection committee — 
two permanent members who are full-time employees 
of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and three rotating 
members (film critics or scholars) who serve terms of 
three to five years. The event has broadened its scope 
over the years, adding more special screenings and side- 
bar programs, including an annual weekend of avant- 
garde cinema that is unique among major festivals. It 
remains noncompetitive, however, and considers itself a 
"public festival" where the intended audience consists 
primarily of movie buffs, in contrast to the large con- 
tingents of film professionals who attend larger-scale 
North American and European festivals. 

By common consensus, Cannes is the single most 
important film festival in the world. This is partly 
because of its age, partly because of its size, and partly 
because success tends to breed success — in other words, 
the festival traditionally thought of as the most influential 
is indeed the most influential for that very reason. The 
Cannes program is chosen by the festival director with 
the advice of assistant programmers assigned to special- 
ized fields (documentary, Asian cinema, short films, and 
so on). Robert Favre le Bret, Gilles Jacob, and most 
recently Thierry Fremaux have had final say over the 
selection since 1972, when the festival eliminated its 
policy of allowing each participating country to choose 
its own presentations. Cannes divides its programs into 
several categories. The most highly visible is the 
Competition, usually comprising two features for each 
day of the twelve-day event, many of them directed by 
established auteurs of world cinema. Films directed by 
favored newcomers, including actors with Cannes cre- 
dentials like Johnny Depp {The Brave, 1997) and 
Vincent Gallo {The Brown Bunny, 2003), also make their 
way into the Competition from time to time, although in 
the eyes of most critics the results in these two cases were 
disastrous. The main sidebar program, Un Certain 
Regard ("A Certain Look"), focuses on movies by newer 




b. Charles Robert Redford Jr., Santa Monica, California, 18 August 1937 

Robert Redford is an internationally known actor, 
producer, and director who has become an influential 
festival impresario via the Sundance Film Festival, until 
1991 known as the United States Film Festival. Redford 
acquired the seven-year-old festival in 1985 as an adjunct 
to the Sundance Institute, which he founded in 1981 to 
encourage filmmaking outside Hollywood by supporting 
new directors and screenwriters, and by facilitating the 
exhibition of independently made fiction and 
documentary features. The institute now sponsors film- 
development workshops, a film-music program, and 
theater projects as well as the festival and the television 
outlet (the Sundance Channel) for which it is most widely 
recognized. It has also established the Sundance Collection 
at the University of California at Los Angeles, an archive 
that acquires and preserves independent films. 

Screening movies is still the institute's most 
prominent activity: in 2005 the Sundance festival showed 
more than 200 films for almost 47,000 spectators, three 
times the attendance of a decade earlier. It also serves as an 
important marketplace for American and international 
cinema, attracting distributors and exhibitors on the 
lookout for fresh, offbeat work. Its reputation for such fare 
was sparked largely by the 1989 premiere of Steven 
Soderbergh's debut film sex, lies, and videotape. The 
festival's openness to a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, 
and international movies has also helped Sundance 
programmers retain a commitment to "indie" filmmaking 
while sidestepping issues related to the increasingly blurred 
boundaries between mainstream (i.e., Hollywood) and 
independent styles and modes of production. 

As a youth Redford studied painting in Europe and 
attended New York's prestigious American Academy of 
Dramatic Arts to hone his acting skills. He is also a 

longtime environmental activist. Such activities signal an 
artistic ambition and social awareness that run against the 
grain of Redford's commercially driven Hollywood career, 
perhaps explaining his decision to put so much money and 
muscle into organizations dedicated to independent 
cinema. His performance in the hugely popular western 
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) made him a 
top-ranking celebrity. He also starred in such box-office 
hits as Barefoot in the Park (1967), The Sting (1973), 
The Natural (1984), and Indecent Proposal (1993). The 
more thoughtful side of his creative personality has 
surfaced in films such as All the President's Men (1976), in 
which he played one of the Washington Post reporters 
who exposed the Watergate political scandal, and 
Ordinary People (1980) and Quiz Show (1994), which he 


As Actor: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), 
The Sting (1973), The Way We Were (1973), Three 
Days of the Condor (1975), All the President's Men 
(1976); As Actor and Director: The Horse Whisperer 
(1998); As Director: Ordinary People (1980), 
The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), A River Runs 
Through It (1992), Quiz Show (1994), 
The legend of Bagger Vance (2000) 


Anderson, John. Sundancing: Hanging Out and listening In at 
America 's Most Important Pilm Festival. New York: Avon 
Books, 2000. 

Dyer, Richard, and Paul McDonald. Stars. London: British 
Film Institute, 1998. 

Friedenberg, Richard, and Robert Redford. A River Runs 
Through It: Bringing a Classic to the Screen. Livingston: 
Clark City Press, 1992. 

David Sterritt 

or less-known talents whom the festival considers worthy 
of attention and support. 

Two other series operate outside the formal bounda- 
ries of the festival: the International Critics Week, where 
selections are chosen by a panel of film critics, and the 
Directors' Fortnight, founded in 1969 as a competitor to 
the official festival, which was interrupted in the politi- 

cally charged year of 1968 by disruptive protests involv- 
ing such major directors as Franfois TrufFaut (1932- 
1984) and Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), leading figures in 
France's revolutionary New Wave filmmaking movement. 
All of these programs coexist peacefully with the festival 
and with the concurrent Film Market, established in 1960 
as a place where producers, distributors, exhibitors, and 




Robert Redford in All the President's Men (1976). EVERETT COLLECTION. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. 

others involved in the circulation of new movies can 
meet, network, and do business with one another. 
Features shown in the festival may have additional expo- 
sure in the market's eighteen screening rooms, although 
priority for entry to these showings is given to film- 
industry professionals who purchase market credentials 
in advance. The market's program for 2004 included 
approximately fifteen hundred screenings of more than 
nine hundred films, more than five hundred of them 
world premieres and the great majority not included in 
the festival itself. The market also sponsors a Short Film 
Corner that typically screens hundreds of shorts. In all, 
these programs attracted more than eight thousand par- 
ticipants in 2004, representing seventy-four countries. 
The market is thus considered a key interchange for 
international acquisition and distribution of movies 
made around the world. 

Overall attendance at Cannes is skewed heavily 
toward film professionals, including film journalists and 
critics, who see the major entries in regularly scheduled 
press screenings beginning at 8:30 every morning and 
proceeding until late evening. The prizes at Cannes are 
awarded by a jury with a different membership of notable 

film-world personalities (directors, producers, perform- 
ers, screenwriters, etc.) each year. At times jury decisions 
diverge greatly from the impression made by a given film 
on festival-goers in general, as when Bruno Dumont's 
ambitious French production UHumanite (1999) won 
the Grand Prize of the Jury as well as best actress (shared) 
and best actor awards after being jeered at during its press 
screening. The prizes given at Cannes vary a bit from one 
year to another, but always include the top Palme d'Or 
(Golden Palm) award as well as a Grand Prize, a Jury 
Prize given to a technician, and prizes for best actress, 
actor, screenplay, and director. In addition, honors are 
given by a separate jury to three short films; the 
Cinefondation of France bestows three awards; and the 
Camera d'Or prize is given to the best Competition or 
Certain Regard film directed by a first-time filmmaker. 
The highest prizes at Cannes, especially the Golden 
Palm, are considered the most prestigious of all 
motion-picture honors with the possible exception of 
the Academy Awards®. 

The Toronto festival awards several prizes, but the 
practice has a lower profile than at Cannes. The People's 
Choice Award is determined by audience ballots after 




each public screening; the Discovery Award is voted on 
by members of the press, representing several hundred 
international media outlets; and juries select the recipi- 
ents of awards for best Canadian feature, best Canadian 
feature by a first-time director, and best Canadian short 
film. In addition, an independent jury administered by 
the International Federation of Film Critics gives an 
award for the best feature by an emerging filmmaker. 
(More commonly known by its European acronym, 
FIPRESCI, this organization establishes prize-giving 
juries, composed of film critics, at many festivals around 
the world.) Toronto is generally seen as the most impor- 
tant North American festival and a close second to 
Cannes in terms of global influence. Its wide-ranging 
program is divided into numerous categories including 
Galas and Special Presentations for high-profile features. 
Masters for works by recognized auteurs. Director's 
Spodight for works by especially adventurous or under- 
recognized filmmakers, National Cinema for features 
from a particular country selected for attention that year. 
Wavelengths and Visions for experimental and avant- 
garde works, and until 2004, Perspective Canada for 
domestic productions. As at Cannes, film professionals 
make up much of the audience, but many local movie- 
goers can be found in the public screenings (as opposed 
to the press screenings) as well. 


Festivals with lower profiles, from the interestingly spe- 
cialized to the obscure, abound. One film critic has 
estimated that New York City alone has no fewer than 
thirty. Iowa has the Hardacre Film Festival, North 
Carolina the Hi Mom Film Festival. Other festivals 
signal their specialties via their unusual names. 
Examples include the Rendezvous with Madness Film 
and Video Festival in Canada, organized around works 
about mental illness and addiction; the Madcat Women's 
International Film Festival in California, featuring inde- 
pendent and experimental work by women; and the 
Tacoma Tortured Artists International Film Festival in 
Washington, devoted to independent filmmakers. 

One of the most respected specialized festivals is 
Pordenone-Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, established in 
1982 by the Cinemazero Film Club and La Cineteca del 
Friuli, a film archive. Focusing entirely on silent cinema, 
this event in the north of Italy draws an international 
audience of archivists, scholars, critics, and adventurous 
movie fans to a wide range of programming that has 
included everything from Krazy Kat cartoons and Cecil 
B. DeMille melodramas to century-old kinetoscopes 
and comedies with forgotten American entertainers. Also 
highly regarded is the Locarno International Film Festival, 
launched by its Swiss founders in 1 946 and celebrated for 

its attention to films by first- and second-time directors, 
and for its screenings of underrated movies chosen by 
currently well-known filmmakers. The hugely ambitious 
Rotterdam International Film Festival in the Netherlands 
has earned high marks for its commitment to avant-garde 
cinema as well as children's films, new features by inno- 
vative directors, and an Exploding Cinema sidebar devoted 
to multimedia projects. This festival also presents film- 
related lectures and gives monetary grants to promising 
directors from developing nations through the Hubert 
Bals Fund, which it administers. The San Francisco 
International Film Festival, established in 1957, helped 
blaze various trails for the growing American festival scene 
with its eclectic blend of major new productions, classics 
restored to mint condition, and retrospectives devoted to 
filmmakers better known by art-film enthusiasts than by 
the general public. 

Among the more unusual American festivals is the 
Telluride Film Festival, founded in 1974 in a small 
Colorado town — once a mining community, now a pop- 
ular skiing site — and considered by many to be one of 
the world's most intelligently programmed cinema 
events. It refuses to divulge its schedule until ticket- 
holders arrive at the festival gate, making attendance less 
a matter of access to particular premieres than of overall 
faith in the programmers. Telluride ensures the presence 
of celebrities — a diverse lot ranging from the actress 
Shirley MacLaine to the novelist Salman Rushdie — by 
holding tributes, complete with screenings of relevant 
films and the awarding of medals, to three film-world 
notables each year. Screenings are held in several venues 
including a community center and an intimate opera 
house where Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and Jenny 
Lind (1820-1887) performed during the mining-boom 
era; the original marquee of the opera house, displaying 
the word "SHOW in large letters, is still standing and 
serves as the festival's trademark. The legendary Warner 
Bros, animator Chuck Jones (1912-2002), a frequent 
attendee until his death in 2002, once paid his respects 
to Telluride's nine-thousand-foot elevation by saluting 
the festival as "the most fun you'll ever have without 


Film festivals will most likely retain their popularity. 
However, they are also likely to change their selection 
standards and exhibition formats as technological devel- 
opments in cinema — such as the increasing use of digital 
systems in cinematography and projection processes — 
alter the nature of cinema itself Most festivals have 
already shown an increased willingness to judge films 
for potential selection on the basis of video copies rather 
than 35 mm prints, and many have opened the door (in 




some cases grudgingly) to public screenings using video- 
projection systems, especially when the movie was origi- 
nally shot on video. Another question that confronts the 
program directors of many general-interest festivals is 
whether they should focus primarily on the best of cin- 
ematic art — ^which may include obscure, difficult, and 
esoteric works — or turn in more commercially oriented 
directions. By courting movies with trendy themes, pal- 
atable styles, and major stars who may agree to make 
personal appearances, festivals could potentially draw 
larger audiences, attract greater press attention, and sat- 
isfy financial sponsors banking on association with celeb- 
rities and their projects. 

The staying power of film festivals will continue to 
depend, in part, on providing an alternative to the multi- 
plex. The shrinking number of art-film theaters, owing to 
competition from cable television and the home-video 
industry, also lends increasing importance to festivals. 
Exhibition patterns have always influenced cinematic 
styles, and the festival phenomenon has given indispen- 
sable exposure to new and unconventional works that 
might not otherwise be seen by the producers, distrib- 
utors, exhibitors, and others who largely control the 
financial infrastructure of theatrical film. Also invaluable 
is many festivals' practice of spotlighting overlooked or 
forgotten movies from the past that would otherwise 
remain unknown to — or at least unviewable by — scholars 
and critics as well as curious movie fans. Ever since 

Venice commenced its festival activities in the 1930s, 
such events have amply proven their merit as what 
Richard Pena, the New York Film Festival program 
director, describes as "a refuge from the vicissitudes of 
the marketplace." Film festivals are indeed one of the 
vital signs of a thriving cinema. 

SEE ALSO Academy Awards®; Prizes and Awards 


Anderson, John. Sundancing: Hanging Out and Listening In at 
America's Most Important Film Festival. New York: Avon 
Books, 2000. 

Beauchamp, Cari, and Henri Behar. Hollywood on the Riviera: 
The Inside Story of the Cannes Film Festival. New York: 
Morrow, 1992. 

Gaydos, Steven. The Variety Guide to Film Festivals: The Ultimate 
Insider's Guide to Film Festivals around the World. New York: 
Perigee, 1998. 

Langer, Adam. The Film Festival Guide: For Filmmakers, Film 
Buffs, and Industry Professionals. Chicago: Chicago Review 
Press, 2000. 

Stolberg, Shaei, ed. International Film Festival Guide. Toronto: 
Festival Products, 2000. 

Turan, Kenneth. Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the 
World They Made. Berkeley: University of California Press, 

David Sterritt 




There is no single or simple history of film. As an object 
of both academic and popular interest, the history of film 
has proven to be a fascinatingly rich and complex field of 
inquiry. Coffee-table books, multipart documentaries, 
television networks that predominantly feature movies, 
scholarly monographs, and textbooks have cut different 
paths through this field. As a result, film history can look 
quite different, depending on whether the focus of 
attention is on individual films, institutional practices, 
national cinemas, or global trends. Indeed, the history of 
film's remarkable rise in the twentieth century has been 
told in a variety of ways: as the story of artistic triumphs 
and box-office winners; of movie moguls and larger-than- 
life stars; of corporatization and consumption; of auteur 
directors and time-honored genres; of technology and 
systemization; and of audiences and theaters. Taken even 
more broadly, the history of film becomes an account of 
the shifting roles and multiple effects of cinema — cultur- 
ally, socially, and politically. 

Across this range of options, film history confronts, 
implicidy or explicitly, a number of provocative and 
knotty questions: From a larger historical perspective, what 
is the role of the individual film and the individual film- 
maker? What are the social and cultural contexts within 
which the movies were produced and consumed? What 
does the history of film have to do with other twentieth- 
century histories — of technology, business, commercial 
entertainment, the modern nation-state, globalization? 


Given the fact that film is at once art, industry, mass 
media, and influential form of cultural communication, 

it is not surprising that the history of film can be 
approached from a number of quite distinct angles. 
A concern with technology, for example, raises questions 
about the invention, introduction, and diffusion of mov- 
ing picture projection systems and cameras, as well as 
color, sound, and wide-screen processes. Technological 
history has been especially prominent in discussions of 
the pre- 1900 period, the transformation to sound in the 
late 1920s and the 1930s, and the struggle to compete 
with television during the 1950s. To explore the history 
of home movies and amateur film also necessarily 
involves questions of so-called "small-gauge" technology 
(most notably, 8 mm and 16 mm), and any broader over- 
view of film exhibition must take into account the tech- 
nology of the movie theater, including the projection 
apparatus and, from the 1980s on, sophisticated sound 

Technology is intimately connected to the eco- 
nomics of the motion picture industry, another key 
aspect of film history that has received considerable 
interest from scholars. Most attention has been given 
to the internal workings and the ongoing transforma- 
tions of the Hollywood studio system, both in terms 
of how individual studios have operated and also in 
terms of the concerted efforts by studios to maintain 
monopolistic control over the industry. Economic his- 
tory also takes up labor relations and unionization, 
government attempts to regulate the film industry 
through antitrust actions, and the financial framework 
and corporate affiliation of major studios in the 
United States and Europe. Equally central to any 
historical understanding of the economics of the 
industry are the complex relations among production, 



Film History 

distribution, and exhibition, including the role of 
Hollywood in exporting American films to the rest 
of the world. While exhibition has recently received 
considerable attention — as in, for example, Douglas 
Gomery's Shared Pleasures (1992) and Gregory A. 
Waller's Moviegoing in America (2002) — distribution 
remains understudied. 

More than economics, technology also figures in 
what has been called formalist or aesthetic histories of 
film, which tend to focus on questions concerning narra- 
tive and audio-visual style and, more generally, the art 
and craft of cinema. This approach has tended to empha- 
size masterworks and great directors, celebrating their 
innovations and contributions to a tradition of cinematic 
art. The auteur theory, for example, has informed much 
popular film history. At the same time, more systematic 
(even statistically based) approaches to the history of film 
style have looked less at world-famous directors like 
D. W. Griffith (1875-1948), Sergei Eisenstein (1898- 
1948), and Jean Renoir (1894-1979) and more at the 
norms and opportunities available to filmmakers under 
specific conditions of production, in and out of 
Hollywood. Such approaches consider, for example, 
how editing practices, camera movement, and uses of 
the soundtrack have changed over time. 

The historical study of film genres also takes up 
formal concerns, as well as other topics having to do with 
the cultural and ideological role of popular film. 
American film history has sometimes been understood 
primarily in terms of the changing fortunes of genres like 
the gangster film, western, film noir, and the musical. 
More interesting is the considerable amount of historical 
work that has been done on individual genres, offering a 
complex picture of how genres emerge, flourish, and 
decline both in terms of the films produced and the 
reception of these films by audiences at the time and by 
later generations of fans and critics. The history of film 
genres, as presented, for example, by James Naremore in 
More Than Night (1998), has also raised important ques- 
tions about intermedia relations, that is, the way the 
course of film history has been significantly affected by 
contemporary practices in literature, live theater, radio, 
popular music, and television. 

Popular genres, as might be expected, often figure 
prominently in social or cultural histories, which seek in 
a variety of different ways to situate film within a 
broader context or to shift focus away from individual 
films, directors, and studios to questions about how 
cinema is constructed, circulated, understood, and 
monitored in a particular class, region, or subculture or 
in society at large. One prominent concern of social 
history is the film audience: How has it been defined 
and policed? What is its makeup in terms of class, race. 

and gender? What is its reception of particular movies 
and cinema in general? To explore what moviegoing has 
meant in specific historical situations has necessarily 
involved a greater attention to the practices and strat- 
egies of film exhibition. From nickelodeon and picture 
palace to drive-in and suburban megaplex, the movie 
theater has proven to be a key site for exploring the 
place of film in the everyday life of the twentieth century 
and for considering how a film experience intended for a 
national or global audience is presented and consumed 
at a local level. 

Other major areas of social and cultural historical 
research are the ideological import of cinematic repre- 
sentations (of race, gender, and sexuality, for example); 
the formal and informal processes of censorship; the 
role of official government cultural policy (which is of 
particular import outside the United States); and the 
connections between cinema and consumer culture, 
through advertising, product tie-ins, and so on. Of 
crucial importance in this regard is the vast amount of 
written material surrounding and concerning the mov- 
ies, from trade journals and promotional matter to 
reviews, fan magazines, and — more recently — Internet 


The earliest film histories, like Terry Ramsaye's A 
Million and One Nights (2 vols., 1926; originally pub- 
lished in Photoplay magazine, beginning in 1921), were 
intended for a general audience. These works offered 
first-person, highly anecdotal accounts written by jour- 
nalists, inventors, and filmmakers who frequently were 
insiders to the motion picture industry. Ramsaye, for 
instance, had worked as a publicist. His book and others 
like it set a model for a sort of film history that is 
preoccupied with movie personalities and filled with 
broad claims about the step-by-step "progress" of film 
as art and industry. Foregrounded in such works is the 
role of inventors like Thomas Edison and directors like 
D. W. Griffith, certain landmark films, influential sty- 
listic innovations, and major technological advances. 
Much popular history concerning, in particular, classic 
Hollywood, carries on this tradition, offering a narrative 
account of movie history that features individual artists, 
inventors, and executives rebelling against or working 
securely within the demands of the commercial enter- 
tainment industry. This "great man" version of history 
typically goes hand in hand with a belief that the histor- 
ian's task is, in part, to identify and celebrate a canon of 
cinematic masterworks. 

Writing at the end of the silent era, the British 
filmmaker and critic Paul Rotha (1907-1984) took a 
somewhat different tack in The Film till Now (1930), 



Film History 

emphasizing distinctive national cinema traditions and 
giving special attention to films and filmmakers that 
challenged standard Hollywood practices. Both of these 
emphases have also frequently been features of film his- 
tory textbooks. After Rotha there have been several sig- 
nificant attempts at world or global histories of film, like 
Histoire du Cinema (5 vols., 1967-1980), by Jean Mitry. 
Until recently, with, for example. The Oxford History of 
World Cinema (1999), attempts at international film 
history have generally been plagued by a decidedly 
Eurocentric, if not always American, bias. The lack of 
full attention to non- Western film has arisen from the 
assumption that film history is above all concerned with 
film production, filmmakers, and film studios (princi- 
pally the domain of Hollywood, Bollywood, and a few 
European companies) rather than with exhibition, recep- 
tion, and worldwide film audiences. 

Most typically, film history has been understood in 

national terms. This is reflected in the number of books 
devoted exclusively to Hollywood and American cinema, 
beginning with Lewis Jacobs's The Rise of the American 
Film (1939) and culminating in Scribner's ten-volume 
History of the American Cinema (1990—2000), a towering 
achievement. Other national cinemas, too, have fre- 
quently been a key subject for historians, from New 
Zealand and Japan to Cuba and Canada. While specific 
details vary from country to country, this form of film 
history reinforces what is assumed to be a strong corre- 
lation between the cultural, economic, and social life of a 
particular nation and the films produced in that nation. 
National histories of film typically celebrate homegrown 
auteurs and award-winning titles, "new waves," and the 
sort of films that circulate on the international film 
festival circuit. More recently, however, the widespread 
interest in industry practices, government cultural pol- 
icy, and popular genres has led to groundbreaking 
research on national cinemas that draws heavily on 
archival sources, as in Peter B. High's The Imperial 
Screen (2003), a study of Japanese film during the 
Pacific War era. 

The 1970s and 1980s saw a major turn toward 
historical research in academic film studies, led in part 
by a new interest in early silent cinema (1895-1910), 
which completely reshaped our understanding of the 
origins of the American film industry, the audience that 
took up moviegoing during the nickelodeon era, and 
the introduction of narrative film. This type of revi- 
sionist history, which makes extensive use of primary 
documents (including the trade press and archival 
motion-picture holdings) and rejects simple notions of 
progress and celebrations of "great men," got a major 
boost in Film History: Theory and Practice (1985), 
Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery's assessment of 
the discipline and blueprint for future research. Equally 

significant was the publication that year of David 
Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson's 
Classical Hollywood Cinema, an exhaustively researched 
study based on a randomly selected body of films and a 
range ot industry-related print material. This influential 
book set out to investigate Hollywood's evolving mode 
of production, its incorporation of technological 
change, and its elaboration of a cinematic style that 
served as the norm for American movies between 
1917 and 1960. 

Since the mid-1980s the study of film history has 
been strongly influenced by other major scholarly 
trends, notably, feminist, postcolonial, and cultural 
studies, as well as reception studies that focus on social 
identities and film-related public discourses. There has 
also been an increasing emphasis on historical case 
studies in article or monograph form that rely on sig- 
nificant primary research to focus in detail on a rela- 
tively narrow period, topic, or institutional practice. 
Works like Eric Schaefer's "Bold! Daring! Shocking! 
True!" (1999), a history of exploitation films, and Lee 
Grieveson's Policing Cinema (2004), an account of early 
film censorship, exemplify the highly focused yet still 
very ambitious research that has continued to enrich 
and complicate our understanding of film history in 
and out of Hollywood, within and beyond the walls of 
the movie theater. 

SEE ALSO Canon and Canonicity 


Allen, Robert C, and Douglas Gomery. Film History: Theory and 
Practice. New York: Knopf, 1985. 

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The 
Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Modes of 
Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 

Crafton, Donald. The Talkies: American Cinema 's Transition to 
Sound 1926-1931. New York: Scribner's, 1997. 

Gomery, Douglas. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie 
Presentation in the United States. Madison: University of 
Wisconsin Press, 1992. 

Grieveson, Lee. Policing Cinema: Movies and Censorship in Early 
Twentieth-Century America. Berkeley: University of California 
Press, 2004. 

High, Peter B. The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the 
Fifteen Years' War, 1931-1945. Madison: University of 
Wisconsin Press, 2003. 

Jacobs, Lewis. The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History. 
New York: Teachers College Press, 1939. 

Musser, Charles. The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen 
to 1907. New York: Scribner's, 1990. 

Naremore, James. More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 



Film History 

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, ed. Oxford History of World Cinema. 
New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 

Ramsaye, Terry. A Million and One Nights: A History of the 
Motion Picture through 1925. New York: Simon & 
Schuster, 1926. 

Rotha, Paul. The Film till Now. London: J. Cape, 1930. 

Schaefer, Eric. "Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!": A History of 
Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Durham, NC: Duke 

University Press, 1999. 

Waller, Gregory A. Moviegoing in America: A Sourcebook in 
the History of Film Exhibition. Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2002. 

Gregory A. Waller 




In 1946, French film critics coined the term film noir, 
meaning black or dark film, to describe a newly emergent 
quality in wartime Hollywood films. At that time, the 
term signified an unexpected strain of maturity in con- 
temporary American film, marking the end of a creatively 
ossified era and the beginning of a bold new one. By 
the time the term achieved wide English language usage 
in the 1960s, however, it had come to mean dark 
Hollywood films of the past — films whose era and style 
were no longer current. Despite such a slippage in defi- 
nition, film noir remains arguably the most protean and 
influential of American film forms. It has demonstrated a 
limitless capacity for reinvention, has undergone major 
cycles of redefinition, and has analogues not only in other 
national cinemas but also in radio, television, theater, 
fiction, graphic novels, comic books, advertising, and 
graphic design. The term has moved beyond the domain 
of film discourse and has been used to describe narratives 
in other media and genres. There is even a "Film Noir" 


Film noir indicates a darker perspective upon life than 
was standard in classical Hollywood films and concen- 
trates upon human depravity, failure, and despair. The 
term also implies a cinematic style: a way of lighting, of 
positioning and moving the camera, of using retrospec- 
tive voice-over narration. Its narrative often relies heavily 
on flashbacks and choice of setting — usually a seedy, 
urban landscape, a world gone wrong. Film noir has 
stylistic and thematic antecedents in American hard- 
boiled fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, German expres- 
sionist films of the 1920s, American horror films and 

radio dramas of the 1930s and 1940s, and French cinema 
of the 1930s. Its first cycle ran from the 1940s to the late 
1950s. After 1960, neo-noir films have included a com- 
ponent antithetical to the earlier films: a conflicted nos- 
talgia for the post— World War II era evoked in references 
to the period's sociocultural atmosphere as well as to its 
filmmaking practices. 

Film noir emerged during World War II with films 
like Double Indemnity (1944); Laura (1944); Murder, My 
Sweet (1944); Phantom Lady (1944); Mildred Pierce 
(1945); Scarlet Street (1945); and The Woman in the 
Window (1945). Its foundations had been laid in the early 
1940s, in films such as Stranger on the Third Floor, with its 
sinister look, nightmare sequence, and atmosphere of per- 
verse and unstable masculinity. The Maltese Falcon, with 
its themes of widespread evil and deviant as well as manip- 
ulative sexuality, and Citizen Kane (1941), with its dark, 
expressionist look and fragmented narration. 

Although reviews at the time commented on the 
depravity, sexual degradation, and violence in many of 
these films, they linked them only insofar as they man- 
ifested a gritty "realism." Other common elements 
among many of the films are retrospectively apparent, 
such as the large number of Germanic emigre directors, 
including Fritz Lang (1890-1976), Otto Preminger 
(1906-1986), Robert Siodmak (1900-1973), and Billy 
Wilder (1906-2002); their dark "studio" look, often 
employing expressionistic "mystery" lighting; their use 
of retrospective, voice-over narration; their engagement 
with potentially censorable material; their themes of 
unstable identity, often involving amnesia or identity 
alteration, and of gender instability, concentrating in 
particular upon femmes fatales and weak men; their 



Film Noir 

Expressionist style in Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947). EVERETT COLLECTION, reproduced by permission. 

deterministic view of human behavior; their narratives of 
failed enterprises; the influence of psychoanalytic con- 
cepts (such as fetishism, masochism, repression, and var- 
ious compulsions) upon their characters' construction; 
and their atmosphere of disorientation and anxiety. 

Not surprisingly, neo-noir films display a self- 
consciousness alien to earlier ones. Many creative partici- 
pants in the earlier films were not being disingenuous 
when they claimed that they never knew they were mak- 
ing films noirs when they were making films noirs. The 
films initially appeared under many guises, only to be 
categorized as film noir at a great distance, first by the 
French in 1 946 and then by English-speaking critics after 
1960. But lack of intentionality does not mean that the 
filmmakers did not draw on a common sensibility and 
gravitate toward similar filmmaking practices. Over time, 
those commonalities have conferred a powerful generic 
status on the films that is much stronger than earlier, 
more diverse perceptions of them. 

The first films noirs were made as detective films, 
mysteries, melodramas, social problem films, crime films. 

and thrillers. They were produced as A films by major 
studios, as products of B-movie divisions of major and 
minor studios, and as low-budget, independent films. 
Some studios, like RKO, developed divisions for the 
production of inexpensive genre films, many of which 
have subsequently been called films noirs. While these 
films were products of Hollywood's "Golden Age," they 
collectively deviate from popular notions of Hollywood 


Hard-boiled popular fiction gave film noir its narrative 
models, major themes, and verbal style. The genre is 
commonly associated with the detective fiction of writers 
like Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) and Raymond 
Chandler (1888-1959), which first appeared in the 
1920s and provided an alternative to the then-dominant 
British detective fiction of writers like Sir Arthur Conan 
Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, and Agatha Christie. The British 
model presumes a benign society into which crime erupts 
as an aberration: once a detective has solved the crime, 



Film Noir 

society returns to tranquility. Hard-boiled fiction, to the 
contrary, presumes a corrupt world in which crime is an 
everyday occurrence. Its characters are olten driven by 
destructive urges that they can neither understand nor 
control. Although a detective may solve the story's moti- 
vating crime, he entertains no illusions that this small 
victory makes the world a better place. One narrative 
model thut film noir draws from such fiction implicates 
the detective when the crime he attempts to solve unex- 
pectedly draws him into its consequences. He often 
becomes ensnared by a femme fatale or gets set up as 
the "fall guy" ft^r a larger crime. Nearly everyone with 
whom he deals is duplicitous. Hard-boiled fiction was 
not limited to detective fiction; Cornell Woolrich's 
(1903-1968) Phantom Lady and James M. Cain's 
(1892—1977) Double Indemnity and The Postman 
Always Rings Twice share this perspective on life and 
provided sources for important films noirs. 

Hard-boiled fiction — particularly the first-person 
narration of Chandler's novels — introduced a cynical, 
doomed, and grimly poetic tone. Its verbal style is appa- 
rent in both the wisecracks of the detective and in the 
moody, voice-over narration dominating many of the 

German expressionist cinema gave film noir a mood, 
a visual style, and some themes. A cinema obsessed with 
madness, loneliness, and the perils of a barely coherent 
world, it emerged after Germany's devastating defeat in 
World War I and reflected the despair of the times. Its 
first major film was Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari {The 
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920). Nearly everything in it is 
highly stylized, particularly the set design, which appears 
to be part of a demented dream, not unlike the despair- 
ing mood of many noirs. 

By the mid- 1920s, expressionism had become a 
widely respected style, imitated by Hollywood directors 
like John Ford (1894-1973), and by the 1930s, many 
expressionist directors and technicians had emigrated to 
Hollywood, influencing its emergent horror genre 
directly. A decade later, film noir applied these same 
tropes of madness, despair, and disorientation to the 
world of "normal," middle-class experience. 

A sophisticated use of the sound track was a defining 
innovation oi film noir, drawing upon techniques devel- 
oped in American network radio. Network radio and 
sound film both began in the late 1920s, and by the 
1940s, they enjoyed great success. It was not until then 
that Hollywood learned to use soundtracks in genuinely 
complex ways, rather than simply as adjuncts to image 
tracks. By then, network radio had developed writers, 
technicians, and actors skilled at presenting stories using 
sound alone; its popularity had accustomed listening 
audiences to understand complex layerings of sound. 

Radio narration went beyond linear, retrospective story- 
telling and employed dynamic interactions between nar- 
rating voices ("It all began last Tuesday when . . .") and 
dramatic ones ("Who's there?"). Sometimes the same 
voice narrated and participated in the dramatic 
action — a common trope in films noirs, which used 
sound to present two versions of a single character simul- 
taneously. The narrator's voice-over in Double Indemnity, 
for example, appears throughout the film, telling us his 
story at a time when he already knows he is doomed; he 
also speaks throughout the flashback scenes. We hear 
both his depressed narrating voice and his optimistic 
younger self, which has not yet learned what both nar- 
rator and viewer already know — that his scheme will fail. 
The aural and visual contrast between his optimistic self 
and the somber, despairing tone of his narrating self 
create complex layers of character. 

Postwar disillusionment gave film noir a mood and a 
social context. Victory in World War II did not bring the 
peacetime happiness that many had anticipated. Films 
like The Blue Dahlia (1946) show wartime veterans feel- 
ing isolated after they return. This disillusionment is also 
evident in non-noir films of the era, such as that 
Christmas perennial. It's a Wonderfid Life (1947), in 
which the ugly side of small town America drives a 
decent businessman to near-suicide. Its miraculously 
happy ending does not entirely erase the sinister darkness 
that its portrait of small town life creates. 

Disillusionment came from many directions. 
Women, who had been encouraged to join the work 
force during the war, now felt pressured to leave it to 
make room for returning veterans. Labor unions, many 
of which had been forbidden to strike during the war, 
now demanded long-awaited benefits. The defeat of the 
Axis powers did not bring about international security, 
because the Cold War emerged, generating anxiety about 
Communist infiltration. 

Technological advances made during the war allowed 

postwar filmmakers greater freedom from the confines of 
studios. Film stocks were improved, enabUng cinematog- 
raphers to capture a wider range of light than previously 
possible and, at the same time, to need less in the way of 
bulky lights; sound recording equipment, particularly 
improvements in the wire recorder, became more portable; 
lighter cameras with better lenses became available. 
Although traditionally composed films had always used 
location shooting, it had been cumbersome and expensive. 
Now these technological developments dovetailed with a 
public taste for "realism" in films and with critical respect 
for Italian neorealism, a new style from Italy that explored 
the unvarnished realities of contemporary life. In the 
United States, Louis de Rochemont (1899-1978), who 
had produced the March of Time newsreels, produced 



Film Noir 

films such as The House on 92nd Street (1945), Boomerang 
(1947), and Walk East on Beacon (1952), which used a 
newsreel aesthetic. These films, and odiers like them, deal 
with a world of crime and betrayal, subversion, and people 
on the edge. Many have been called films noirs, but they 
look and feel differently from films noirs like Double 
Indemnity or Scarlet Street. They have a strong narrating 
presence, but instead of the tormented voice-overs of films 
like Double Indemnity or Out of the Past (1947), they ofi:en 
employ an authoritative "Voice of God" narrator associ- 
ated with a governmental institution, such as the FBI or 
the Treasury Department. They have a very different look 
from the expressionistic films mentioned earlier, although 
some of their scenes do have a dark look. They often 
advertised themselves as "real" or "true," or "pulled from 
the headlines." The House on 92nd Street prides itself on 
including "actual FBI" surveillance footage. These films 
mark the first major reinvention oifilm noir. 

Clearly, the term film noir casts a wide net and has 
meant difi^erent things at different times. Certain images, 
narrative structures, character types, and themes are 
widely perceived as typifying it, however. Standard per- 
ceptions of film noir include atmospheric black-and- 
white films from the 1940s and 1950s with specific 
character types, such as a hard-boiled detective, femme 
fatale, a middle-class man in a doomed affair, a roodess 
drifter, a slick underworld night-club owner; narrative 
patterns, such as an adulterous couple whose murderous 
plot leads to their doom, a prosperous, middle-class life 
unraveling into death or madness, a detective investigat- 
ing a mystery that turns on him, a drifter or criminal 
seeking a quick score and then drawn into murder and 
catastrophe, a couple on the run; iconic images and 
settings (desolate, nocturnal, urban streets; brightly lit, 
art-deco nightclubs; mysterious, darkened rooms lit 
through Venetian blinds); shadowy shots of someone 
watching from a hidden place; iconic performers (wise- 
cracking, trench-coated Humphrey Bogart; desperate, 
embittered Dick Powell; terrified, or arrogant, Barbara 
Stanwyck; sultry Lauren Bacall; Veronica Lake peering 
through her eye-shrouding hair; arrogant, smug Clifton 
Webb or George Macready; Robert Mitchum looking 
grimly resigned or dreamily indifferent; Dana Andrews 
methodically puzzling out a mystery). The overall atmos- 
phere is one in which something — everything — has gone 
terribly wrong, a world heavy with doom, paranoia jus- 
tified and closing in. 


Given its doom-laden world, film noir offers the voyeur- 
istic pleasure of watching transgression play itself out. 
Audiences saw morally compromised people doing 
immoral things; stories involved the forbidden, the sin- 

ful. The films pushed the boundaries of contemporary 
censorship: their ads promised the titillations of easy 
women, violent men, and doomed enterprises — cheap 
thrills with dire consequences. In soliciting viewers' iden- 
tification with doomed people, the films court masochis- 
tic pleasure. 

A cliche about classical Hollywood films is that they 
required happy endings. Film noir challenges this gener- 
alization. Many films noirs develop virtually no expect- 
ation of happy endings; to the contrary, they quickly 
establish a foreboding of disaster. Characters in many 
films describe themselves as walking dead men. Part of 
the appeal of film noir lies in the expectation that things 
will turn out very badly. 

Often, the retrospective, voice-over narrative struc- 
ture of many such films removes the traditional pleas- 
ure — found particularly in mysteries — of wondering how 
the plot will turn out. The narrator often reveals the 
outcome at the beginning. The narrator of Double 
Indemnity, for example, confesses as the film begins that 
he committed murder for money and a woman and then 
tells us that he didn't get the money and he didn't get the 
woman. For the rest of the film, then, the audience 
knows that his plans will fail. The central character in 
D.O.A. (1950) announces at the beginning of the film 
that he has been murdered by poison and has only hours 
to live. The audience does not have to wonder what will 
happen to him; they already know. What, then, is the 

Much of noirs appeal is voyeuristic — the pleasure of 
watching the specifics of how it all came to this. Tabloid 
journalism provides a useful narrative analogue. A head- 
line may announce "Man murders lover and her husband 
for insurance money: Gets nothing." The reader knows 
the outcome from the beginning but reads on to savor 
the crime's gory details. Virtually all films noirs from the 
1940s and 1950s were set in the present. Characters 
looked and generally behaved like people that audience 
members might see when they left the theater. Noirs dealt 
with the kinds of tragedies, scandals, and duplicities that 
bordered on their audience's everyday experiences and 
that appeared regularly in tabloids. 


A rough overview oi film noir begins in the early 1940s 
with films like The Maltese Falcon, which presented a 
new, darker perspective on the characters and themes of 
hard-boiled fiction. Two earlier films, the 1931 The 
Maltese Falcon and the 1 936 Satan Met a Lady, had been 
based upon Hammett's novel of the same name. Both 
handled crime in the lighthearted manner typifying 
detective films in the 1930s. John Huston's (1906- 
1987) 1941 film brought a new, grim tone to the 



Film Noir 

b. Bridgeport, Connecticut, 6 August 1917, d. 1 July 1997 

Robert Mitchum's extraordinarily long and fertile 
Hollywood career developed chiefly around his association 
With, film noir. As an actor, the tension between his half- 
asleep, dreamily indifferent expression and a powerful, 
broad-shouldered physical presence enabled him to 
dominate scenes while also seeming abstracted from them. 
He appeared to confront either success or doom as if he 
didn't really care, which made him ideal for film noir. 

After his Academy Award® nomination for 
portraying the heroic, doomed lieutenant in The Story of 
G.I. Joe (1945), he was signed by RKO Studios, where he 
starred in important films noirs such as Out of the Past and 
Crossfire (both 1947). Even the westerns he made at this 
time, such as Pursued (1947) and Blood on the Moon 
(1948), were noted for their noir-h\\ tone. 

Out of the Past is possibly the most iconic film noir, 
with its voice-over narration, atmosphere of doom, 
chiaroscuro lighting, emasculated men and femme fatale, 
and strong influence of Freudian concepts upon character 
construction and narrative organization. Mitchum plays a 
man whose hidden past catches up with him. A former 
private detective hired to find z. femme fatale, Mitchum's 
character falls for her, an act that sends his life spiraling 
into murder, betrayal, and death. Having failed in his 
attempt to build a new life, he orchestrates his own death. 
Mitchum's haunting portrayal of a man losing everything 
important to him is one of his most eloquent. 

Mitchum's rebellious off-screen reputation, 
culminating in his arrest for possession of marijuana in 
1948, seemed to blend with his darker roles. This image 
was enhanced by his skill at playing unregenerate, 
psychotic villains in films like Night of the Hunter (1955), 
Cape Fear (1962), and in the television series A Killer in 
the Family (1983). A less-discussed counterpoint to this 

aspect of his image was his career-long effectiveness at 
playing socially responsible authority figures in films like 
Crossfire, The Enemy Below (1957), The Longest Day 
(1962), and in the popular television miniseries The Winds 
of War (1983). 

Long after the era of film noir ended, he contributed 
to the neo-noir revival of the 1970s, starring as Philip 
Marlowe in Farewell My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep 
(1978). These films were remakes of classicA films noirs 
(Murder, My Sweet [1944] and The Big Sleep, 1946), films 
in which Mitchum could have credibly starred thirty years 
earlier. By the 1970s, his very presence in a film carried 
with it evocations of film noir. While hosting a 1987 
Saturday Night Live show, he even parodied his film noir 
image. Although he was at times mocked for sleepwalking 
through roles, he developed a singularly diverse and often 
nuanced repertory of performances. 


The Story ofG.L Joe (1945), Pursued (1947), Out of the Past 
(1947), Crossfire (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), 
Thunder Road (1958), Home From the Hill (1960), Cape 
Fear (1962), El Dorado (1966), Farewell, My Lovely 
(1975), A Killer in the Family (TV series, 1983) 


Belton, John. Robert Mitchum. New York: Pyramid, 1976. 

Eells, George. Robert Mitchum: A Biography. New York: 
Franklin Watts, 1984. 

Mitchum, Robert. Mitchum: In His Own Words, edited by 
Jerry Roberts. New York: Limelight, 2000. 

Roberts, J. W. Robert Mitchum: A Bio-bibliography. Westport, 

CT: Greenwood, 1992. 
Server, Lee. Robert Mitchum: 

York: St. Martin's, 2001. 

', I Don't Care." New 



material. RKO used Chandler's novel, Farewell, My 
Lovely (1940), as the source for The Falcon Takes Over, 
a 1 942 film in the earlier detective mode. Only two years 
later, the same studio used Farewell, My Lovely as the 
source for Murder, My Sweet but that film's noir style 
gave it an entirely different atmosphere. The flowering 
of film noir came with mid- 1940s films like Double 

Indemnity, Scarlet Street, Mildred Pierce, The Blue Dahlia, 
The Killers (1946), Out of the Past, Detour, The Postman 
Always Rings Twice (1946), and The Big Sleep (1946). At 
times, as in The Stranger (1946) and Crossfire (1947), 
films noirs moved beyond tormented, interpersonal issues 
and explicitly engaged contemporary social problems, 
such as fugitive Nazis and anti-Semitism. In the late 



Film Noir 

Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (Jacques Toumeur, 


1940s, documentary style entered film noir with films 
like T-Men (1947) and Naked City (1948). In the 1950s, 
film noir incorporated anti-communist (Pickup on South 
Street, 1953), anti-nuclear {Kiss Me, Deadly, 1955), and 
socio-medical [Panic in the Streets, 1950) concerns. 

By the early 1960s, with the decline of black-and- 
white cinematography and the collapse of the studio 
system, film noir was dying out. Various films have 
been cited as marking its last gasp, including Orson 
Welles's (1915-1985) Touch of Evil (1958), Alfred 
Hitchcock's (1899-1980) The Wrong Man (1956), 
Samuel Fuller's (1912-1997) Underworld U.S.A. (1961), 
and Blake Edwards's (b. 1922) Experiment in Terror 
(1962). Although the commercial viability of fidm noir 
was declining in Hollywood, its international influence 
was growing. This is particularly evident in films of the 
French Nouvelle Vague, such as A bout de souffle {Breathless, 
1960), Alphaville (1965), Tirez sur le pianiste {Shoot the 
Piano Player, 1960), and La mariee etait en noir {The Bride 
Wore Black, 1968). That influence later appeared in the 
New German Cinema, the Hong Kong Cinema, and 
various Latin American cinemas, among others. 

By the 1970s, neo-noir films acknowledged film noir 
as a past form, either by setting themselves during the 
1930s-1950s era or, for those set in the present, making 
clear references to earlier films, as for example, 
Chinatown (1974), Body Heat (1981), Blood Simple 
(1984), The Long Goodbye (1973), and Mulholland Falls 
(1996). Neo-woir also includes remakes of earlier films 
noirs, like Farewell, My Lovely (1975), The Postman 
Always Rings Twice (1981), D.O.A. (1988), and Kiss of 
Death (1995). Just ^ls film noir was parodied during its 
canonical era in films like My Favorite Brunette (1947), 
so it was later parodied during the neo-noir era in films 
like Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982). 

Beginning in the 1980s, neo-noir began linking noir 
with dystopian science fiction in films like Blade Runner 
(1982), Radioactive Dreams (1985), the Terminator senes 
of films, and Minority Report (2002). Film noir presents a 
world gone sour and presumes the failure of Utopian 
Modernism; similarly, an enduring strain of science fic- 
tion evident since George Orwell's 1948 novel, 1984, has 
depicted the fiature as a failed past. The central character 
of the futuristic Blade Runner speaks with a world-weary 
cynicism that evokes that of 1940s hard-boiled detectives. 

Extensive crossover influences have appeared in 
other media. While film noir was thriving, numerous 

radio series drew upon its noir conventions, including 
the Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Richard Diamond, 
Private Detective series. Television series, from Peter 
Gunn to Dark Angel, have done the same thing. Novels, 
such as those by James EUroy (b. 1948) {The Black 
Dahlia, 1987), have been called film noir fiction, and 
graphic novels by writers like Frank Miller (b. 1957) {Sin 
City) also draw extensively upon noir stylistics. Similar 
patterns exist in other media. 


The critical and theoretical commentary upon film noir 
has been extensive. The history of film noir begins with 
international criticism — essays written in postwar France 
assessing new developments in American film. The 
context and historical moment is important. New 
Hollywood films had not been available in France since 
the time of the German occupation in 1940. When those 
films at last appeared in postwar Paris, critics like Nino 
Frank saw evidence of a new sensibility in them, which 
he termed film noir. Frank contrasted this sensibility with 
the work of Hollywood's older generation — directors like 
John Ford. Frank's use of the term film noir carried with 
it associations of "black" French films of the 1930s, such 
as Marcel Game's (1909-1996) Hotel du Nord (1938) 
and Le Jour se Leve (1939), as well as with Marcel 
Duhamel's Serie Noire books. The first book-length study 
of film noir, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton's 



Film Noir 

Jack Nicholson in Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), which began a wave ofneo-noirs. EVERETT COLLECTION. 


Panorama du Film Noir Americain, appeared in 1955. By 
the time the term caught on in Enghsh more than a 
decade later, film noir had come to mean a historically 
superseded fdm movement. These three critical perspec- 
tives — that of the mid- 1940s, describing a vibrant, 
emerging sensibility; that of the 1950s, categorizing an 
established cycle; and that of the 1960s, describing a 
historical, archival category — should not be conflated. 
They come with different vantage points and different 
assumptions. They often presume a different body of 
films (with the post- 1960s perspective expanding the 
canon exponentially). The first two draw upon primarily 
Modernist presumptions; the last often includes a post- 
modern sensibility. 

The expansion and academicization of film discourse 
in the 1960s gave film noir its first widespread attention 
in English. Important articles by Raymond Durgnat in 
1970, Paul Schrader in 1972, and Janey Place and Lowell 
Peterson in 1974 laid groundwork for exploring film 

noir, posing major questions such as whether it is a genre 
or a visual style to the growing academic and journalistic 
film culture in Europe and the United States. 

In 1981, Foster Hirsch's The Dark Side of the Screen: 
Film Noir detailed historical contexts and proposed 
major tropes of the form. Three years later. Spencer 
Selby took a virtually opposite approach in Dark City: 
The Film Noir. Lamenting what he considered to be the 
contemporary tendency to fit the films into grand cate- 
gories, Selby provided detailed (primarily narrative) anal- 
yses of twenty-five individual films, along with 
appendices of historical and bibliographical data, to illus- 
trate his premise that the films must be evaluated 

Since the late 1970s, psychoanalysis, particularly 
Lacanian psychoanalysis, has become the lingua fianca 
of much discourse on film noir, it inflects many 
approaches. One such approach, as evidenced in collec- 
tions of essays by E. Ann Kaplan and Joan Copjec, draws 



Film Noir 

b. San Diego, California, 30 June 1906, d. 29 April 1967 

Although Anthony Mann's reputation as a director rests 
primarily upon his turbulent, complex 1950s westerns 
starring James Stewart, his style coalesced in the 1940s 
with a series of important films noirs. These films, with 
their disorienting, often baroque cinematography, 
malevolent environment, and violent, tortured characters, 
presage his later work. His Technicolor westerns of the 
1950s and historical epics of the 1960s were shot with a 
broader palate and a resonant sense of landscape, and 
retreated farther into history, but they share with the noirs 
an entrapping environment populated by embattled, 
anguished men. 

Mann began his directorial career in the 1940s making 
B films whose minimal budgets allowed him considerable 
creative freedom. Particularly in his 1 940s work with 
cinematographer John Alton, Mann developed a distinctive 
visual style that made extensive use of oppressive darkness, 
intermittent light, and off-center, disorienting camera 
angles in complexly textured images. Such images are often 
as potent a component of the films as their characters and 
stories. Mann's films often erupt with shots of excruciating 
agony that make viewers gasp. An abrupt, low-angle shot in 
Winchester 73 (1950), for example, shows Stewart brutally 
clawing a villain's face. The murderous savagery evident in 
Stewart's contorted face indicates that litde difference exists 
between this "hero" and the villain. 

T-Men (1947), perhaps the most distinctive of 
Mann's ^/»2i noirs, deals with undercover US Treasury 
agents investigating a counterfeiting syndicate. Two scenes 
reveal much about Mann's compressed techniques. In one, 
a gangster locks an informer in a steam room to roast him 
to death. In a single shot, we see the trapped, terrified 
victim clawing at the room's window while his sadistic 
killer quietly watches from the other side of the window, 
only inches away. In the second scene, one treasury agent 
watches in impotent agony while another undercover 
agent, a close friend, is murdered. Both scenes painfully 
foreground the physical proximity, repressed terror. 

impotent psychic agony, and sadism pervading Mann's 
enclosed, masculine world of embittered rivalries. 

T-Men is framed as a documentary-style film about 
an actual Treasury Department case. Its unseen narrator, 
unlike the tormented narrators of many films noirs, speaks 
in a declamatory, newsreel-type tone, touting the glories of 
the Treasury Department. Shots of the department seem 
to belong in a different film — brightly lit, frontal, with 
monumental exteriors of its Washington, D.C., 
headquarters. These differ radically from shots of the 
criminal world — the nightmare-like, dark, cramped, 
sweaty images classically associated with film noir. These 
two styles provide contrast within the film and also presage 
the open landscapes of the westerns and epics to come. 
Although the palate of later films is broader, their 
oppressive universe breeding endless, useless masculine 
conflict and torment remains similar to that of Mann's 
films noirs. 


Desperate (1947), Railroaded (1947), T-Men (1947), Raw 
Deal (1948), He Walked by Night (uncredited, 1948), 
Border Incident (19 A9), Winchester 73 {1950), The Naked 
Spur (1953), Man of the West (1958), El Cid (1961), The 
Tall of the Roman Empire ( 1 964) 


^Asm^cr, ]eanmc. Anthony Mann. Boston: Twayne, 1979. 
Kitses, Jim. Horizons West: Directing the Western fom John 

Ford to Clint Eastwood. London: British Film Institute, 


Smith, Robert. "Mann in the Dark." The Tilm Noir Reader, 
edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini, 167—173. New 
York: Limelight Editions, 1996. 

White, Susan. "t(he)-men's room." Masculinity: Bodies, 
Movies, Culture, edited by Peter Lehman, 95—1 14. New 
York and London: Routledge, 2001. 

Wood, Robin. "Man(n) of the West(ern)." CineAction, 
no. 46 (June 1998): 26-33. 

William Luhr 



Film Noir 

Anthony Mann, everett collection, reproduced by 


upon post-structuralist, feminist film discourse to exam- 
ine gender constructions within the films. Another psy- 
choanalyticaliy inflected approach is Frank Krutnik's In a 
Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity (1991), 
which relies on some of the tools of Structuralist genre 
study to focus upon issues of masculinity. Another 
approach is offered by Tony Williams (1988), who 
applies Gaylyn Studlar's work on masochism to films 
related to Woolrich's fiction and attempts to shift: dis- 
cussion of film noir from tropes of content to tropes of 
affect. This approach is also evident in recent work on 
trauma and anxiety done by E. Ann Kaplan and others. 

In addition to gender-based approaches, recent 
articles dealing with racial representation in film noir 
have opened up an important new area of exploration, 
examining, for example, the erasure of peoples of color in 
many films noirs and the use in those films of highly 
coded racial imagery. As with so many other topics, this 
fiinctions differently in films made during the classical 
noir period from the way it functions during the nea-noir 
era. Films made during the classical era are Anglo-centric 

and seldom directly engage issues of race. However, sig- 
nificant patterns exist in ways in which many of those 
films not only erase or marginalize peoples of color but 
also symbolically associate them with the exotic and the 
dangerous. Neo-woir films, to the contrary, often explic- 
idy address issues of race, commonly from a perspective 
sympathetic (while patronizing at times) to peoples of 
color. A number of such films have been based upon 
fiction by African American authors such as Walter 
Mosley (b. 1952), Chester Himes (1909-1984), and 
Donald Goines (1937-1974). 

SEE ALSO Crime Films; Expressionism; Genre 


Borde, Raymond, and Etienne Chaumeton. Panorama du film 
noir americain, 1941—1953. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1955. 
Published in English as Borde, Raymond, and Etienne 
Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir, 1941—1953. 
San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2002. 

Copjec, Joan, ed. Shades of Noir: A Reader. New York and 
London: Verso, 1993. 

Gorman, Ed, Lee Server, and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. The Big 
Book of Noir. New York: Carroll and Graff, 1998. 

Hirsch, Foster. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. San 
Diego: Barnes, and London: Tantivy Press, 1981. 

. Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir. New 

York: Limelight, 1999. 

Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Women in Film Noir, 2nd ed. London: 
British Film Institute, 1998. 

Krutnik, Frank. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. 
New York: Routledge, 1991. 

Luhr, William. Raymond Chandler and Film, 2nd ed. Tallahassee: 
Florida State University Press, 1991. 

, ed. The Maltese Falcon: John Huston, Director. New 

Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 

Naremore, James. More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 

Palmer, R. Barton. Hollywood's Dark Cinema: The American Film 
Noir. Farmington Hills, MI: Twayne, 1994. 

Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, eds. Film Noir Reader. New York: 
Limelight Editions, 1996. 

Spencer, Selby. Dark City: The Film Noir. Jefferson, NC: 
McFarland, 1984. 

Telotte, J. P. Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film 
Noir. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. 

William Luhr 




In 1889, Eastman Kodak introduced a flexible, trans- 
parent roll film made from a plastic substance called 
celluloid. Kodak chemists had perfected the celluloid film 
that had been invented and patented in 1887 by the 
Reverend Hannibal Goodwin. In 1891, working under 
Thomas Edison (1847-1931), W. K. L. Dickson (1860- 
1935) designed the first motion picture camera, the 
Kinetograph, which used Kodak celluloid film stock. By 
1911, Kodak was manufacturing over 80 million feet of 
film stock annually for the film industry, and the com- 
pany continued to be the major supplier of film stock 
internationally throughout the twentieth century. With 
the rise of the digital age in the twenty-first century, 
Kodak has evolved to produce and support digital film- 
making and projection equipment. 


Celluloid film is made up of a flexible, transparent base 
that is coated with a gelatin layer (the emulsion), which 
contains millions of tiny, light-sensitive grains. When 
the film is exposed by the shutter in the lens, the grains 
absorb light, creating a latent image that is not visible to 
the naked eye. The film is then treated with developing 
chemicals, which cause the exposed portions of the film 
to become visible in a negative image of the original 
scene: light and dark areas in a scene are reversed. The 
film is then "fixed," which removes the developing 
chemicals, and the undeveloped grains are washed away 
to prevent further exposure of the film. The negative 
film is then printed by allowing light to pass through it 
onto a second strip of film, creating a positive film for 

Early film stock was made of cellulose nitrate, an 
extremely flammable plastic. Nitrate film burns rapidly, 
even without a supply of air, and gives off poisonous and 
explosive gases. It has even been known to ignite sponta- 
neously. Cameramen had to be extremely careful when 
using and storing nitrate film; one spark from a cigarette 
could cause an entire day's work to go up in flames. In 
1 897, a fire broke out in a French movie theater that was 
projecting a nitrate-based film, killing over 180 people. In 
1914, a fire began in a California film-finishing house, 
destroying ten buildings. Kodak introduced a flame-resistant, 
cellulose triacetate film stock, also known as Safety Acetate, 
in 1909. But the film industry resisted Safety Acetate, 
which was less flexible, harder to splice, and wore out more 
quickly than nitrate film; studios continued to use the more 
flammable celluloid until Kodak introduced Improved 
Safety Base Motion Picture Film in 1948. 

A few early film cameras used paper film stock. 
Evidence suggests that around 1883, French photography 
enthusiast Louis Le Prince (1842-1890) built and experi- 
mented with a single-lens camera that used a paper 
negative film. Prior to 1912, the Kinora Film Company 
offered an amateur camera and viewing device that uti- 
lized paper film stock in a flip-book format. 


Film stock is available in a number of gauges, or widths. 
Wider gauges project a sharper image, while smaller gauges 
tend to be grainier. A number of experimental widths have 
been used in filmmaking throughout the history of cinema, 
but the most common gauges still in use today are 35 mm, 
16 mm, 8 mm. Super 8 mm, and 70 mm. 



Film Stock 

Thirty-five mm, the gauge used in Edison's 
Kinetograph, quickly became the common width for film- 
makers around the world. The Lumiere Brothers (Auguste 
[1862-1954] and Louis [1864-1948]) also used 35 mm 
film in their Cinematographe camera. In 1929, the 
American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 
declared 35 mm the standard gauge of the film industry, 
and it remains the standard commercial gauge. 

Because of its flammability and expensive two-step 
developing process, 35 mm was not a viable option for 
amateur filmmaking. In 1914, Kodak began experiment- 
ing with 16 mm acetate film that ran through the camera 
twice via a reversal method that produced a positive 
image film that did not need to be printed from a 
negative. The film was designed as 16 mm so that 
35 mm nitrate film could not be split in half and slipped 
into the camera. Kodak didn't release the new gauge until 
after World War I, in July 1923. In 1928, Eastman 
Teaching Films, a subsidiary of Kodak, produced 
16 mm films for use in the classroom on a range of 
academic subjects. In the late 1920s, studios began 
reprinting 35 mm commercial films on 16 mm and selling 

them for home viewing. But 16 mm didn't become com- 
mercially popular until World War II, when it was used 
for army training, education, and entertainment. Medical 
and industrial companies also began to use it for research 

Since the 1920s, experimental, avant-garde, and 
independent filmmakers have used 16 mm for artistic or 
professional purposes. Some notable 16 mm films in this 
category include Chelovek s kino-apparatom {The Man 
with a Movie Camera, 1929) by Dziga Vertov, Meshes of 
the Afternoon (1943) by Maya Deren, Wavelength (1967) 
by Michael Snow, and El Mariachi (1992) by Robert 

In 1932, Kodak introduced 8 mm, a gauge that used 
the same processing equipment as 16 mm but cost about 
one third as much. Eight-mm cameras used 16 mm film 
that ran through the camera twice, each time exposing 
only half the film. The film was then slit in half and the 
two pieces spliced together. Eight mm (sometimes called 
"double eight") appealed greatly to the home movie 
market. The gauge was intended for moderate-income 
families, and Kodak devised marketing strategies that 

Robert Rodriguez shot El Mariachi (1993) on 16mm film stock. © Columbia pictures/COURTESY everett collection. 




Film Stock 






35 mm 


□ □ □ □ 


1 1 

1 1 


1 1 

1 1 

1 — 1* 
1 \i 





































1—1 1 



Super-8 mm 

16 mm 

70 mm 

Diagram of relative film gauges. © THOMSON GALE, reproduced BY PERMISSION. 

stressed 8 mm's "family record" function. The famous 
Zapruder film, which recorded the assassination of John 
F. Kennedy in 1963, was shot using 8 mm film. In 1935, 
Kodachrome color film stock was introduced in both 
8 mm and 16 mm gauges; by the 1950s, color amateur 
filmmaking had become very popular. 

The next significant advance in amateur film stock 
came in 1965, with the release of Super 8 mm. The new 
gauge came pre-split and loaded in a drop-in cartridge, 
which eliminated 8 mm's tedious threading process. 
Super 8 mm could also project 50 percent more image 
area than regular 8 mm, because of a reduction in the size 
of the sprocket holes. By the end of the 1960s, most film 
stock manufacturers had halted production of regular 
8 mm production altogether. Jim Jarmusch used Super 
8 mm to film The Year of the Horse (1997), documenting 
Neil Young and Crazy Horse's concert tour. 

Seventy-mm film, which projects an extremely high- 
resolution picture, became popular for commercial use in 
the mid 1950-1 960s. When used in the camera, this film 
stock is actually 65 mm wide, but the negative is printed 
onto 70 mm film to allow for six tracks of surround 
sound. Seventy-mm's wide-screen format, sharp picture, 
and high-quality sound made it an ideal format for epics 
like Ben-Hur (1959), Cleopatra (1963), and Lawrence of 
Arabia (1962). The advent of low-grain 35 mm film stock 
and digital soimdtrack systems led to a decline in 70 mm 

use in the 1990s, and few 70 mm films are made today. A 
horizontal variant of 70 mm is now used for IMAX fdms. 

The speed (sensitivity) of the film stock also affects 
the quality of the image in projection. Slow film stock is 
less sensitive to reflected light, so brighter light sources 
are necessary during shooting to produce sharp images. 
Slower stock also creates less contrast between light and 
dark areas within a composition; fast film stock is very 
sensitive to reflected light and produces distinct contrasts 
between light and dark within the frame. Fast stock is 
often used for documentaries, in settings where light 
options are limited, and in fiction films that try to 
capture a stark, documentary feel. Film noir, a genre 
popular in the 1940s, took advantage of faster film stock 
technology to capture striking shadows and slick, rainy, 
nighttime streets. Film stock is assigned a numeric value 
according to speed standards established by the ASA 
(American Standards Association), which became the 
basis for the ISO (International Organization for 
Standardization) speed system, now currently used 
worldwide. Doubling the value doubles the film speed, 
so a film stock rated 800 is twice as fast as one rated 400. 


Until 1925, Hollywood studios used orthochromatic 
Eastman Standard Negative stock. Orthochromatic film 
was only sensitive to the brightest natural light, so large 



Film Stock 

ultraviolet lamps had to be used during shooting. It also 
registered only blue light, so anything colored red showed 
up on the film as black. This posed a problem for actors 
and actresses, whose flesh-toned faces appeared darker 
than normal on screen. Thus began the practice of using 
heavy white pancake makeup on the majority of screen 
personalities. In 1922, Robert Flaherty shot his docu- 
mentary Nanook of the North on orthochromatic film 
stock, which beautifully accentuated the harsh, colorless 

In 1922, panchromatic film, which was sensitive to 
all colors, became available for black-and-white filmmak- 
ing. The hard-edged blue orthochromatic gave way to the 
softer gradations of "pan," providing much more natu- 
ral-looking visuals. But the film industry was hesitant to 
switch formats, believing orthochromatic was "good 
enough" to suit its purposes. In 1926, Flaherty shot 
Moana, a documentary containing lush, tropical scenery, 
using panchromatic film. It convinced Hollywood to 
make the change, and by 1930, orthochromatic film 
manufacturing had been discontinued. 

Color was achieved in early cinema through methods 
of postproduction tinting and toning. Tinting is a tech- 
nique that applies one or more colors to certain areas of 
the film stock by hand. The practice began as early as 
1895, in an Edison-produced film, Serpentine Dances. In 
the film, a woman dances in circles as her dress and 
scarves change colors, as if by magic. Edison's crude 
tinting techniques proved difficult on the eyes, but by 
1905, a stenciling process was perfected that created a bit 
more accuracy in color distribution on the celluloid. 
Georges Melies (1861—1938) used tinting in Le Reve 
d'un astrome {An Astronomer's Dream, 1898) and the first 
version of Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, 
1902); The Great Train Robbery (1903) contained tinted 
sequences, including the gunshot blast directed at the 
audience in the last scene. 

Toning imparts a color to an entire black-and-white 
film. By 1920, over 80 percent of all Hollywood feature 
films used toning to represent particular settings or emo- 
tions: for example, amber for day or interior shots, blue 
for nighttime, red for battle scenes. In 1921, Kodak 
began manufacturing pre-toned film stock in nine differ- 
ent colors. Aftier the arrival of sound technology in 1927, 
tinting and toning were temporarily halted because the 
processes interfered with the soundtrack, which ran 
alongside the image on the celluloid. By 1929, this 
problem had been corrected, and Hollywood continued 
to use tinted and toned stock copiously until more 
sophisticated color filming techniques were perfected — 
the preview trailer for The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), 
for example, was shot on green-toned film stock. 

Dozens of experimental processes were tried in the 
early 1900s to capture realistic color on film, but most 
lacked quality and were quickly abandoned. Technicolor 
was invented in 1917 by Herbert Thomas Kalmus 
(1881-1963) and Daniel F. Comstock and eventually 
became the industry standard in Hollywood. The first 
version of Technicolor superimposed two colored images 
(one green, one red) onto the screen simultaneously. The 
process was too expensive to use for an entire feature 
film, but Technicolor sequences in black-and-white films 
quickly became fashionable in Hollywood — for example, 
in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). 

In 1932, Kodak introduced a Technicolor film stock 
capable of reproducing a reasonable range of hues, using 
a three-color process. With three strips of black-and- 
white film running together through the camera, the 
color image was recorded by separating its green, blue, 
and red properties onto each of the corresponding color- 
sensitive negatives. From these three negatives, three 
more strips of film (known as matrices) were printed; 
these were used to transfer corresponding dye images 
onto a single blank piece of film. Walt Disney was one 
of the first filmmakers to experiment with this process, 
creating Flowers and Trees (1932), the first animated 
short in full color. 

During World War II, German manufacturers pro- 
duced the first single-strip color negative, which is still in 
use. This process used three sensitive photographic emid- 
sion layers, or tripacks, coated on a single base support. The 
eye perceives different wavelengths of light as particular 
colors in the spectrimi. Special chemicals sensitive only to 
a specific group of light wavelengths allow for an im^e of a 
different color to be processed on each layer of film (blue, 
green, and red). This composite image is processed, much 
like black-and-white film, in negative, so colors are reversed 
until printed in positive. By 1953 this process was well 
established in the film industry; by 1955, the three-strip 
process had disappeared from use completely. 

SEE ALSO Cinematography; Color; Lighting; Technology 


Collins, Douglas. The Story of Kodak. New York: Abrams, 1990. 

Happe, L. Bernard. Basic Motion Picture Technology. 2nd revised 
ed. New York: Hastings House, 1975. 

Kattelle, Alan. Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 
1897-1979. Nashua, NH: Transition, 2000. 

Limbacher, James L. Four Aspects of the Film. New York: Brussel 
& Brussel, 1969. 

McKee, Gerald. Film Collecting. South Brunswick, NJ: Barnes, 

Erin Foster 




From the outset, motion pictures have stimulated dis- 
cussion and debate as a technology, a social phenom- 
enon, a political tool, a moral danger, and an art. The 
earliest discussions and debates took place outside an 
academic context. From noted filmmakers such as 
Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), Vsevolod Pudovkin 
(1893-1953), and Maya Deren (1917-1961) to eclectic 
thinkers and social critics such as Siegfried Kracauer, 
John Grierson (1898—1972), and Andre Bazin, a body 
of knowledge began to develop that would provide a 
launching pad for the academic study of film in the years 
following World War II, especially the 1960s. 

These pioneers also established a tradition of com- 
mentary about film that continues to operate independ- 
ent of the university. Exemplified today primarily by the 
circulation of relatively formulaic film reviews, biogra- 
phies, profiles, and box-office statistics, these popular 
forms of commentary work largely to support the dom- 
inant forms of feature filmmaking and to aid consumers 
of entertainment in their choice of films. The devoted 
amateur cinephile has given way to the professional film 
reviewer and the university scholar, although passionate 
engagement with the art and politics of film can still exist 
in both sectors. 


The rise of film studies within the university has typically 
sought to justify itself less on the grounds of film as a 
commodity to be consumed with the guidance of critics 
and reviewers and more on the grounds of film as an art 
form or cultural object to be understood for its formal 

qualities and social implications. Film studies took root 
in the academy in the wake of the enormous interest in 
European art cinema generated during the postwar period 
by filmmakers such as Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977), 
Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918), Akira Kurosawa (1910— 
1988), Franfois Truffaut (1932-1984), Jean-Luc Godard 
(b. 1930), Claude Chabrol (b. 1930), Michelangelo 
Antonioni (b. 1912), Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956), 
and many others. Their work demonstrated that feature 
fiction films could address the same issues of alienation, 
spiritual hunger, historical memory, and formal experi- 
mentation that were evident in many works of literature 
and visual art. It was, in fact, in various humanities 
departments that film studies most frequently emerged 
as an academic subject. An older tradition of communi- 
cation studies existed, and continues to exist, as a social 
science discipline, but the stress given in the social scien- 
ces to institutional factors, quantitative analysis of the 
industries and audiences for motion pictures, television 
and other media, and content analysis did not satisfy the 
same goals as humanistic approaches, which stressed 
interpretation of specific films and theorization about 
the cinema as both art form and cultural object. For 
the majority of film scholars, questions of industrial 
organization and measurable social effects took a subor- 
dinate place to questions of film structure, style, and 

Treated as an art comparable to literature, painting, 
or sculpture, film called for study in terms of apprecia- 
tion, differentiation, and interpretation. That is, an 
appreciation for film meant understanding what dis- 
tinguished the medium from other arts and then differ- 
entiating among the myriad of actual films those that 



Film Studies 

best exemplified the distinctive nature of the medium. 
The differentiation of films into clusters of various kinds 
also allowed for comparisons and contrasts to be made 
beyond the level of the individual film. Among the most 
significant of clusters were (1) the classic Hollywood film, 
from Grand Hotel (1932) to Spartacus (1960); (2) studio 
films — those made by MGM compared to those from 
Warner Brothers, for example; (3) genre film; (4) national 
cinemas (British, French, or Iranian cinema, for example, 
often with a focus on certain periods of notable achieve- 
ment); and (5) the cinema of specific film directors or 
auteurs, such as John Ford (1894-1973), David Lynch 
(b. 1946), and Agnes Varda (b. 1926). Each choice of a 
cluster took support from methodological principles 
designed to facilitate understanding of that particular 
type of film, from the concept of continuity editing in 
classic Hollywood cinema to the concept of directorial 
style in auteur studies. 

Initially, interpretation, or film criticism, revolved 
around an attention to details that showed how films 
conveyed meaning by cinematic means. Landscape, 
for example, was an important signifying element in 
westerns, whereas the jumpy editing style of Jean-Luc 
Godard's early films, such as A bout de souffle {Breathless, 
1960), proved an essential part of his attempt to reinvent 
the classic style of Hollywood films. Similarly, Antonioni 
often conveyed alienation through his mise-en-scene — that 
is, through the way he arranged characters in space and 
moved them through it to suggest their isolation from 
each other (by looking off frame or in different direc- 
tions, for example). 

At a more abstract level, the art of cinema came to be 
identified either with editing as a quintessential element, 
since it allowed two different shots to produce a new 
impression or idea not contained in either shot by itself, 
or with the long take and the cinema's capacity to register 
the uninterrupted occurrence of an event through time. 
Through debates about the merits of different strategies 
by specific directors, critics sought to understand not 
only the complexity of individual films and clusters of 
films but of cinema itself The broad question "What is 
cinema?" provoked answers that shaped what came to be 
known as film theory. 

Efforts to develop a systematic understanding of film 
are almost as old as cinema itself. When these efforts took 
root within the university in the 1960s and early 1970s, 
they shared at least three characteristics with other forms 
of humanistic inquiry: (1) film is a medium of aesthetic 
importance; the most important dimension to cinema is 
its capacity to take form as art, just as the most important 
dimension of writing is its capacity to take form as 
literature; (2) film art, like literature, affects viewers in a 
similar, aesthetic manner that is removed from the 

contingencies of time and place; it transcends the local 
to attain a more timeless significance; and (3) the history 
of the cinema is the history of its emergence as an art 

These characteristics set up a series of priorities that 
carried with them a set of consequences. The greatest 
emphasis went to studying fiction films, which drew 
upon a realistic narrative tradition to tell stories revolving 
around individual characters, their situation or environ- 
ment, and their actions. The appreciation, differentia- 
tion, and interpretation of such stories were already a 
familiar part of literary analysis, and many of the tools 
that furthered understanding of literary form proved 
valuable to film study, such as the close formal analysis 
of specific texts by literary New Criticism. 

New Criticism, represented by figures such as 
T. S. Eliot, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, and 
Alan Tate, was an American phenomenon that flourished 
from the 1930s to the 1950s. It sought to counter a sense 
of the evisceration of the emotional, affective dimension 
of life that science and technology threatened to impose 
by turning to literature, particularly poetry, as a social 
restorative. More crucially, as an influence, it took up the 
efforts by British critics such as F. R. Leavis and 
I. A. Richards to celebrate the internal coherence and 
experiential pleasure of the text itself. Biographical stud- 
ies of the artist or author, examinations of a work's 
historical or social context, topical concerns, and social 
issues all took a back seat to close readings of the text in 
and of itself. The text became a virtual fetish, valued as 
the timeless triumph of the creative spirit. 

New Criticism inspired many studies in film that 
aimed at appreciating the full impact of aesthetic choices 
made within specific films. Robin Wood has been among 
the best practitioners of such an approach, enriching it 
with a keen eye for the sexual politics of a wide range of 
films and a broad appreciation of fiction films from the 
high art of Mizoguchi and Marcel Ophuls (b. 1927) to 
"trash" genres such as horror films. During this period, 
or up until the 1980s, avant-garde cinema, which often 
explored cinematic form in ways that gave scant attention 
to narrative, and documentary, which often stressed 
social issues in ways that diminished the viewer's atten- 
tion to cinematic technique, received less consideration. 

Auteur theory, with its stress on the style or vision of 
the filmmaker as it emerged more from an analysis of his 
or her films than from biographical anecdotes or personal 
statements of intention, proved an extremely important 
aspect of film study. Auteur criticism was among the first 
of the critical methodologies to gain widespread currency 
in the 1950s and 1960s. The practice retains a high 
degree of currency some fifty years later, although its 
focus on close reading, the director as the sole creative 



Film Studies 

force, and thematic preoccupations that seem to be seg- 
regated from their larger social, historical context have all 
come in for considerable correction. Auteur criticism 
initially spread from France, most notably from critics 
soon to become directors writing in Cahiers du Cinema 
such as Franfois Trufifaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude 
Chabrol, Jacques Rivette (b. 1928), and others. In 
English-speaking countries its appearance coincided with 
the rise of film studies as a discipline. It dovetailed 
handily with literary and art historical approaches to art 
via the Great Man theory, which consistently gave prior- 
ity to men (seldom women) whose creative genius looms 
above those of lesser ability. 

It also coincided, in France, with a rebellion, led by 
Francois Truffaut, against the institutionalized "tradition 
of quality," characterized by masterful but largely literary 
rather than truly cinematic achievements. Such work 
dominated the French cinema of the postwar years. 
Trufifaut called for a cinema that explored cinematic 
means of expression with verve and imagination rather 
than one that subordinated technique to a carefiil but 
more theatrical development of characters and their con- 
flicts. This stress led to a distinction between "metteurs 
en scene," directors who simply converted a script into a 
film as a builder might convert a blueprint into a build- 
ing, and the "auteur," a director whose vision and style 
transformed a script into something truly cinematic that 
could not be envisioned on the basis of the script alone. 

It fell to an American newspaper critic, Andrew 
Sarris, to convert the French "politiques des auteurs" into 
an international phenomenon. Sarris chose to label it the 
"auteur theory," a term that lost the original emphasis of 
the French phrase on a policy or politics of the author 
and suggested something of a far more systematic nature. 
His own book. The American Cinema, proposed to trace 
the history of American cinema by classifying over 150 
directors in categories ranging from the "Pantheon," for 
Charles Chaplin, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, 
Orson Welles, and others, to "Oddities, One-Shots, and 
Newcomers," for John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola, 
Ida Lupino, and others, or "Subjects for Further 
Research," for Tod Brovming, James Cruze, Henry King, 
and others. Movie, in the UK, and Film Comment, in the 
US, followed the lead of Cahiers du Cinema in devoting 
large portions of their issues to studies of individual direc- 
tors, ofiien discovering stylistic and thematic consistencies in 
the work of directors who had seemed to be merely the 
hired-hands of the Hollywood studios. 

Auteur criticism provided a conceptual framework 
not only for the analysis of the work of directors who 
clearly possessed a distinct visual style, such as Robert 
Bresson (1901-1909), Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963), 
Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1941), or Peter Greenaway 

(b. 1942). Even more valuably, it prompted the discovery 
of filmmakers of vision who might have otherwise been 
buried within the Hollywood system on routine assign- 
ments or as specialists in various genres. Once compared 
with the work of others working in the same genres, the 
films of Howard Hawks (1896-1977), Preston Sturges 
(1898-1959), Vincente Minnelli, Anthony Mann 
(1907-1967), and Robert Aldrich (1918-1983), for 
example, gained coherence for their thematic and stylistic 
continuity. Hawks, whose style was extremely conven- 
tional, nonetheless used westerns and action films to 
focus on rituals of male bonding that involve getting 
the job done with stoic determination, whereas his com- 
edies explore the hilarious results of men falling under 
the sway of women who isolate and feminize them. 

The emphasis on film as a transcendental art with an 
autonomous history took shape within a strongly 
national context, in keeping with the almost universal 
role of the humanities in cultivating a sense of national 
identity. American, British, French, Senegalese, Iranian, 
Japanese, Brazilian, Argentine, and many other national 
cinemas qualified as transcendental art with distinctive 
history but did so within a national context. The great- 
ness of a German film in the 1920s might be tied to its 
distinct use of the Expressionist techniques common in 
German art at the time — a quality, for example, that 
distinguished German film from the montage principles 
of 1920s Soviet cinema. Similarly, American films were 
often said to exemplify the pursuit of individual happi- 
ness or the obstacles to its attainment, a consistent theme 
in American art and literature. 


These types of film studies held sway during the transi- 
tional period during which film became accepted as a 
disciplinary focus and a departmental entity within the 
university. Even at this time, during the 1960s and 
1970s, the field was not as homogenous as this account 
so far implies. The question of "What is cinema?" also 
took a turn toward the political, asking how film 
mattered within the larger social arena. At the same 
time, a wave of European critical theory exerted consid- 
erable influence throughout Europe and North America. 
This work tended to shift emphasis away from content 
analysis per se, as it was practiced in the social sciences, 
where form or style was of little importance, and instead 
stressed the mechanisms by which content arises in rela- 
tion to specific institutional practices and linguistic 
or semiotic forms. Artistic expressiveness, or style, came 
to be considered less a matter of individual creativity 
and more a matter of institutional systems, which esta- 
blish a context and set limits within which specific forms 



Film Studies 

of expressivity can occur. Stress on the psychology of 
individual characters, for example, might be seen as a 
function of a realist tradition that tends to give priority to 
the individual as the primary social and historical force. 
Such a tradition, in turn, could be considered an ideol- 
ogy — a particular way of seeing the world that can be 
subjected to the same close scrutiny as the style of indi- 
vidual fdms. 

Initially associated with structuralism and then with 
poststructuralism, continental theory posed numerous 
challenges to the humanistic tradition. Language itself, 
including the language of cinema — its narrative codes, 
formal structures, and expressive techniques — became 
regarded less as a vehicle for expressing already conceived 
ideas and more as a mechanism that actually generated 
the impressions that they only appear to represent. 
Realism, for example, serves to make its view of the world 
transparent, as if the world obviously and naturally exists 
in a certain way. Continuity editing, which tends to go 
unnoticed, reinforces such a view. Modernist techniques, 
on the other hand, question this naturalness and stress 
the disjointed, subjective, incommensurate view of the 
world that different individuals might have. Jump cuts 
and strange juxtapositions between people and places 
reinforce this view. In this regard. The Best Years of Our 
Lives (1946) exemplifies the realist film as L'Annee der- 
niere a Marienbad {Last Year at Marienbad, 1961) exem- 
plifies the modernist film. 

The idea that meaning is always tightly related to a 
specific context and to a specific form of expression was 
carried beyond the film itself and applied to the artist and 
viewer. In this case, artistic vision or individual identity 
was seen as always tightly related to the specific institu- 
tional mechanisms that generate a sense of self-expression 
and identity. Traditional literary and film criticism held 
that the creative artist possessed special powers that led to 
artistic excellence. Structural and post-structural theory 
instead proposed that all subjects — artists and film- 
makers, critics and viewers — ^were constituted as subjects 
within specific cultural and institutional frameworks that 
set goals and limits for creativity. These frameworks 
served the specific needs or interests of an existing social 
system — that is, they were ideological. For the French 
political theorist Louis Althusser, this idea led to the 
influential argument that the very idea of an independent 
subject was itself the product of an ideological operation: 
individuals think of themselves as free, subject to no one, 
within a social field that makes this notion the corner- 
stone of a free-market economy in which shared aware- 
ness and collective action represent a limitation or 
diminution of a subject's individuality. 

Althussser's most forceful statement of the idea of 
the individual subject as a product of ideology was his 

essay "Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus " in 
Lenin and Philosophy. His line of thought was extended 
to the cinematic apparatus as an ideological device for the 
reinforcement of the status quo by French theorists at 
Cahiers du Cinema such as Jean Louis Baudry. Althussser 
stressed how the individual internalized assumptions 
about his status as a subject that inevitably placed an 
emphasis on how this internalization occurred. In film 
study, this led to a large quantity of work in the 1970s 
that attempted to make use of psychoanalytic theory to 
account for the effects of cinema on the viewer. Screen 
magazine, from the UK, became the leading proponent 
of this effort. One of the most influential articles on 
ideology and the subject was Laura Mulvey's essay, 
"Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," first published 
in Screen in 1975 and anthologized many times since. 
The essay is discussed further in the next section. 

The dominant narrative cinema came to be seen as 
serving an ideological function that confirmed the indi- 
vidual as a subject. The nature of the star system, the 
system of continuity editing, and narrative realism 
worked to make stories of individual characters and their 
fate appear to simply tell themselves as a natural expres- 
sion of an obvious fact: individuals are the key creators of 
social structure and historical change. The mechanism 
that actually animates these individuals, narrative story- 
telling or, as it came to be known, the cinematic appara- 
tus, remains basically unacknowledged, off-screen. Like a 
puppet master, it creates the illusion of an imaginary 
world and fictitious characters that have independent 
lives of their own. 

Film theory thus identified the cinema as a system 
whose formal elements contribute to the ideology of the 
individual. Feminist film theory carried the analysis one 
step further. Laura Mulvey, in her pioneering essay, 
"Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," noted that the 
individual subject who takes action in films — embarking 
on quests, courting a partner, solving a mystery, and so 
on — is almost invariably male, and the individual who 
awaits the outcome of such actions is almost invariably 
female. Paralleling this distinction, the camera encour- 
ages identification with the male hero; his look becomes 
the camera's look. We see the world from his point of 
view or from a point of view that places him front and 
center. Simultaneously, among the things the male hero 
sees when he looked out at the world around him is the 
female lead. She is there to be seen; she represents, in the 
words of Laura Mulvey, "to-be-looked-at-ness," a passive 
position that can be understood as a symptom of a social 
hierarchy between the sexes. 

Whereas structuralism gave emphasis to the text 
itself and the principles that structured it, poststructural- 
ism emphasized the context within which a film is 



Film Studies 

D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) is formally inventive but racist in its representation. Everett collection. 


received. A given structure to a text was no longer seen as 
fully determining meaning. Interpretation and meaning 
vary; formal qualities of the text set limits but do not 
predetermine meaning. The primary context is the actual 
viewfing situation and the relation of the spectator to the 
screen. The differentiation between male and female 
spectators is one example of the way in which poststruc- 
tural and feminist analysis have given added specificity to 
ideas about an ideological effect to cinema in general. 
The camera's gaze no longer affected all viewers equally, 
regardless of sexual identity. In many ways this repre- 
sented the first of many cracks in the three basic assump- 
tions that had underpinned much of the initial effort to 
introduce film studies into the university. 


By the 1980s poststructural theory and criticism had 
begun to adopt a new set of guiding assumptions. The 

new characteristics ascribed to cinema were three: (1) the 
social impact of films on specific viewers matters more 
than the general qualities of film as art; (2) art is not 
essentially transcendent but always tied to a social and 
historical context within which different responses and 
interpretations occur; and (3) the history of film is the 
story both of its rise as an art and of its social impact and 
political significance as a mass medium. 

Rather than appreciating the art of cinema outside of 
any particular context, the new emphasis called for sit- 
uating the art of any film in a specific context. The 
importance of The Birth of a Nation (1915) for the art 
of cinema because of its inventive use of cross cutting 
between simultaneous events to create suspense must 
now be situated in relation to the actual suspense created: 
would members of the Klu Klux Klan rescue the endan- 
gered white women from the clutches of an evil black 
man? This racist theme itself belonged within the histor- 
ical context of race relations in the early twentieth 



Film Studies 

century, when prejudice and stereotypes took different 
shape and had different status than they do today. 
Situating film within a specific context has also added 
new impetus to the study of documentary film. 
Extraordinarily popular compared to its more marginal 
status up until the early 1980s, documentary film study 
now consistently addresses aesthetic issues in relation to 
socially specific goals and effects. 

The differentiation of films into various groupings 
continued as before but with an added emphasis on the 
historical context to which genres, movements, waves, the 
work of specific directors, and historical phases of 
national cinemas belonged. The attempt to understand 
"What is cinema?" became a question posed less in 
relation to traditional arts and more in relation to newer 
media like television, installation and video art, digital, 
interactive media, and the Web. Forms of overlap and 
convergence among these various forms made the isola- 
tion of cinema as a distinct medium a less compelling 
question than the continuities and discontinuities among 
a wide array of moving image media. 

"Identity politics," which places great stress on 
defining the qualities that characterize a given group, 
often with a stress on the issue of stereotypes, the need 
for "positive images," and the search for alternative forms 
of narrative more commensurate with the group's shared 
values, gave rise to a flowering of film theory, criticism, 
and history from the perspective of African American, 
Native American, ethnic, and queer (a combination of 
gay and lesbian) perspectives. 

This shift in emphasis from the close reading of texts 
isolated from their context began in the 1970s as an 
aspect of a cultural studies approach to film and other 
media. It gained strength in the 1980s as identity poli- 
tics — in this case, the examination of cinema from the 
distinct perspective of a specific group — became an 
important aspect of political debate in the larger society. 
Anthologies such as Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the 
American Cinema and Screening Asian Americans provide 
a wealth of critical analysis devoted to issues that had 
gone largely unexplored by either auteur study or by 
ideological study that focused on the subject rather than 
the larger social system to which the subject belonged. 
Attention to a more socially and historically situated 
perspective challenged qualities previously taken for 
granted, such as heterosexual marriage as a marker of 
the happy ending, stereotypic representation of groups 
from Latinos and Latinas to Jews, and identification with 
male heroes but desire for female stars: the reversal of 
these conventions by gay and lesbian viewers, who desire 
differently, has undercut the universalizing claims of 
traditional film theory. 

Also beginning in the 1980s, a call for a return to the 
history of film cast doubt on the received wisdom of 
existing film histories. Studies such as Miriam Hansen's 
Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film, 
David E. James's Allegories of Cinema: American Film in 
the Sixties, and Jane M. Gaines's Fire and Desire: Mixed- 
Race Movies in the Silent Era all depart radically from the 
earlier tradition of tracing the rise of film as an art within 
various national contexts. Revisionist histories such as 
these set out to apply a more finely tuned analysis of 
the larger context in which films arose. They took into 
account the social, historical, economic, and ideological 
factors that both a more traditional emphasis on the rise 
of film as an art and auteur theory with its stress on the 
centrality of the author as understood solely from films 
themselves failed to do. 

The new assumptions listed above that sought to 
contextualize the understanding of films also called for 
interpretations that differentiated among the responses of 
specific audiences and compared the responses of differ- 
ent audiences. African American women, for example, 
were far more receptive than white males to Julie Dash's 
Daughters of the Dust (1991), which tells the story of an 
African American family poised to embark upon pro- 
found changes at the start of the twentieth century. 
Even popular, mainstream films could no longer be 
understood from a single perspective. Different groups 
were shown to often read against the grain of the pre- 
ferred meaning assigned by critics and marketers and to 
instead discover alternative meanings: slasher films, for 
example, which make violence against women grizzly 
"fun," often lead to male adolescents identifying, across 
the gender divide, with the "Final Girl," who vanquishes 
the male villain and restores order. The critic's own 
alignment in relation to the particulars of ethnicity, class, 
and gender has also become a more openly acknowledged 
aspect of film study since the universalizing voice of 
traditional criticism has become increasingly associated 
with a white, heterosexual male perspective that treats its 
own social viewpoint as normative. 

Film studies scholars today continue to formulate 
theories about the broad patterns that characterize the 
cinema, but they do so in a form that gives heightened 
attention to the specificities of time and place. "Thick" 
interpretations, which attempt to grasp the multiple per- 
spectives and divergent meanings that a given work con- 
veys and prompts, have gained a stronger foothold than 
theorizations that view the cinema as a medium that 
functions in predetermined ways and produces consistent 
responses. Rather than serving as a form of social glue for 
the construction of a unified nation-state, the cinema has 
come to be seen as part of a highly contested cultural zone 
that no longer coincides with a single understanding of 
national or any other identity. The stakes of specific, often 



Film Studies 

underrepresented groups seeking to claim a space within 
the cultural arena generally and film studies specifically 
have taken on great importance. Combined with mostly 
European theories of poststructuralism, these forces have 
altered the shape of film studies, proposing new ways to 
answer the perennial question, "What is cinema?" 

SEE ALSO Auteur Theory and Authorship; Criticism; 
Semiotics; Structuralism and Poststructuralism 


Bazin, Andre. What Is Cinema?, 2 vols. Translated and edited by 
Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. 

Bobo, Jacqueline. Black Women as Cultural Readers. New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1995. 

Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form. Translated by Jay Leyda. San 
Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977. 

Feng, Peter X. Screening Asian Americans. New Brunswick, NJ 

and London: Rutgers University Press, 2002. 

Friedman, Lester D. Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the 
American Cinema. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois 
Press, 1991. 

Gaines, Jane M. Fire and Desire: Mixed-Race Movies in the Silent 
Era. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001. 

Gledhill, Christine, and Linda Williams, eds. Reinventing Film 
Studies. London: Arnold, and New York Oxford University 
Press, 2000. 

Hansen, Miriam. Bable & Babylon: Spectatorship in American 
Silent Film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. 

James, David E. Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties. 
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. 

Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological 
History of the German Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton 
University Press, 2004. 

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Movies 
and Methods, edited by Bill Nichols, vol. 2, 303-315. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. 

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana 

University Press, 2001. 

Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929— 
1968. New York E. P. Dutton and Co, 1968. 

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam, eds. Unthinking Eurocentrism. 
New York and London: Routledge, 1994. 

Wood, Robin. Personal Views: Explorations in Film. London: 
Gordon Eraser, 1976. Revised edition; Detroit, MI: Wayne 
State University Press, 2006. 

Bill Nichols 




The cinema has engaged in a dialogue with the tradi- 
tional fine arts — visual art, literature, music, theater, and 
architecture — from its inception to the present. The rela- 
tionships between cinema, the "seventh art," to the other 
arts is indeed vast and complex. Film's ability to build 
convincing worlds with spatial depth recalls the fijnctions 
of architecture, while music lends film its power to arouse 
abstract emotions that neither words nor images can fully 
express. The movies' emphasis on the body and human 
emotions connects it with the theater and poetry. Film's 
narrative emphasis has obvious affinities with prose fic- 
tion, and of course the medium's visual aspect aligns it 
with painting. Further, the ways in which cinema refer- 
ences art informs a variety of cultural discourses. 

Born out of the circus, vaudeville, and the Grand 
Guignol, the cinema engaged in a dialogue with the arts 
and high culture during its early or primitive period, 
when one shot with movement inside the image was 
enough to capture the viewer's attention. The pioneers 
of filmmaking were well aware of the arts: Georges 
Melies (1861-1938) was educated as an academic 
painter, and the Lumiere brothers (Auguste Lumiere 
[1862-1954] and Louis Lumiere [1864-1948]), although 
trained as engineers and photographers, restaged the 
commonplaces of French Impressionist painting in their 
depiction of leisure time and daily life. The films of 
Melies and the Lumieres are marked by jokes, puns, 
parodies, puzzles, anagrams, riddles, and charades about 
the cliches of painting. Louis Lumiere s short Partie 
d'ecarte {Card Game, 1895), for example, recalls a trope 
familiar from Flemish genre painting to Cezanne's The 
Card Players (1890-1892). D'ecarte, from the verb ecarter 
(to separate), is a pun for des cartes (referring to cards). 

The card game in this particular party represents the 
unpredictable nature of life, with its promises and 


Through the traditions of national cinemas, cultures 
represent themselves to audiences both at home and 
abroad. Hence the function played by the arts in the 
development of national cinemas is most significant. 
Before and after World War I, the various national film 
industries in Europe distinguished themselves through 
allusions to domestic aesthetic traditions. In Italy, for 
example, Giovanni Pastrone's epic Cabiria (1914) draws 
on the grand tradition of Italian opera, complete with 
monumental sets and masses of extras. In Germany, 
Robert Wiene's Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) 
and F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) tap German 
romanticism's interest in origins and subjectivity while 
also drawing on the visual style of German expression- 
ism. Both films cast the upheavals of the self in the jagged 
angles and skewed shapes familiar from German expres- 
sionist painting; the sets make visible a sense of spiritual 
anguish, and their natural locations suggest peaceful sur- 
faces concealing mysterious evils. One of the most 
famous German expressionist films, Fritz Lang's 
Metropolis (1927), is an architectural film built on psy- 
choanalytic allusions and images of industrial regimenta- 
tion. In his direction of the actors and his handling of 
crowds, Lang was influenced by the theater of Max 
Reinhardt, who used sculptural groupings of autom- 
aton-like actors. By designing and streamlining the scenes 
featuring crowds — a feat of directorial control and 
vision — Lang evokes a sense of dehumanization. 



Fine Art 

In comparison to the expressionist taste for the 
supernatural, the so-called French impressionist avant- 
garde of the 1 920s preferred a more psychological under- 
standing of interiority. Germaine Dulac's La Souriante 
Madame Beudet ( The Smiling Madame Beudet, 1 922) uses 
musical allusions and visual effects to suggest the psycho- 
logical complexities at the core of an unhappily married 
woman, thus depicting a feminine self torn by erotic 
repression and a desire for domestic rebellion. In the 
1920s and 1930s, French surrealism thrived on unex- 
pected analogies and unsettling disruptions of objects. 
The development of the surrealist director Jean 
Cocteau's esoteric shifts between word and image, tactile 
and visual references in Le Sang d'un poete {Blood of a 
Poet, 1930), anticipate many of Jean-Luc Godard's col- 
lages in Pierrot le Fou (1965). More generally, surreal- 
ism's taste for disruption anticipates the French New 
Wave's playful orchestration of literary, pictorial, musi- 
cal, and popular sources in film. Before and after the 
revolutionary upheavals of May 1968, the French New 
Wave directors, especially Godard, wove together the 
legacies of different periods of film history, ranging from 
surrealist word— image games to the montage ensembles 
developed out of Soviet Constructivist art. 

With film impressionism, surrealism, and expres- 
sionism, the national cinemas of France and Germany 
embraced the agendas of modernist avant-garde move- 
ments. Furthermore, around 1914 the Italian futurists 
published a manifesto about the cinema (they also made 
a few films, most of them lost). However, the silent 
Italian film industry steered away from avant-garde 
experimentation in favor of a more popular, operatic 
cinema based on great books and paintings of high 
culture. This edifying approach from Italy became a 
model for the development of the cinema in 
Hollywood as well. The Italian compromise between 
mass spectacle and famous works, populist entertainment 
and an attention to pictorial values, reappears in the work 
of the American director D. W. Griffith, notably The 
Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), and Broken 
Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919). Set in 
Victorian England and replete with opium dens and 
Buddhist references, Broken Blossoms is a melodrama 
whose artistic aspirations are confirmed by its tragic 
ending in which all three protagonists die. The film deals 
with alcoholism, family abuse, and racial miscegenation, 
deploying the style of Pre-Raphaelite painting in its 
representation of the self-effacing but sensuous character 
of the girl Lucy (Lillian Gish). 


By upgrading the melodrama with art-historical referen- 
ces, Griffith's Broken Blossoms paved the way for the 

stretching of genre films from formulaic narrative to 
more aesthetically complex works. Whether the narrative 
deals with the biography of a famous artist (the biopic) or 
with a famous battle (the historical film), it is possible to 
elevate genre to the "art" film. As the scholar Charles 
Tashiro has pointed out, some historical films depend on 
pictorial citations as period sources, including William 
Dieterle's Juarez (1939), with its literal restaging of 
Goya's 1814 painting Executions of the Third of May 
1808, and Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), which 
is informed by eighteenth-century portraiture and genre 
paintings ranging from Joshua Reynolds to John 
Constable. Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan (1967), 
though it does not recall any specific picture, is steeped 
in the colors, landscapes, fabrics, and atmospheres of 
impressionist painting. 

American biopics devoted to the life of an artist, 
such as John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952), about 
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Vincente Minnelli's 
Lust for Life (1956), about Vincent van Gogh, can be 
considered art films in a very loose sense. These films 
tend to recycle society's cliches about artists — notions of 
genius, madness, recklessness, inner torment, exile, and 
romance. Films as different as Legal Eagles (1986) and 
Modigliani (2004) suggest that making art goes hand in 
hand with living intensely, talent with struggle. As is 
apparent from the character of Waldo Lydecker 
(Clifton Webb) in Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944), 
Hollywood traditionally represents artistic figures and 
environments in a self-destructive or corrupting light; 
painting specifically is the equivalent of excess, color, 
femininity, vice, and solipsism. The French director 
Maurice Pialat takes a more sociological and existential 
approach to his subject in Van Gogh (1991), where art- 
making is still all-consuming and self-destructive yet 
leaves room for friends, family, and colleagues. As con- 
ceived by Pialat, Van Gogh is subjected to the value 
judgments of his period about the artist — entailing 
notions of femininity, creativity, and individuality — but 
he is not the embodiment of corruption and decadence. 

The Hollywood musical, with its emphasis on cos- 
tume, color, and set design along with music and dance, 
is a genre that evokes the relation of art and film through 
visual style. In An American in Paris (1951), for example, 
the set designs evoke the style of French impressionism. 
In another genre, film noir, chiaroscuro lighting and 
Gothic architecture show the influence of German 
expressionism, a sensibility that migrated from Europe 
to Hollywood. Another notable instance of generic refer- 
ence to visual art is in the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, 
which from Psycho (1960) onward includes references to 
the paintings of Edward Hopper (1882-1967), an 
American artist famous for his deserted diners at night, 
lonely motels, uninhabited vistas, and isolated individuals. 



Fine Art 

And in a science-fiction film with noirish underpinnings 
like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), the eclectic mix 
of architectural citations from various periods and styles 
endows the film with a strange nostalgia for a more 
authentic historical past in such a way as to calibrate 
the loss of memory and a jaded sensibility. 


The marriage of art and cinema through genre in 
American cinema often resulted in the identification of 
art with elitism and deception. In European film history, 
the post- World War II art film developed in the film 
industries of France, Germany, and Italy. The film the- 
orist and historian David Bordwell has argued that the 
"European art film" is more of a mode than a genre 
because its stylistic conventions stem from a general 
opposition to the rules of Hollywood cinema. Bordwell 
argues that films such as Michelangelo Antonioni's 
L'Avventura (1960) and Ingmar Bergman's Persona 
(1966) were born out of the rejection by Italian neo- 
realism of Hollywood's causal storytelling, goal-oriented 
protagonists, and emphasis on narrative closure. By 

choosing ambiguity, unresolved narratives, directorial 
expressivity, location shooting, and existential malaise 
with a social consciousness, the European art film was 
an alternative to Hollywood in the 1950s. 

Andre Bazin's influential role as a critic enabled the 
rise of Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. 
Francois Truffaut relied on artistic citations from 
French impressionism and early modernist painting in 
such films as ]ules et Jim (1962) and Les Deux anglaises et 
le continent {Two English Girls, 1972); by contrast, 
Roberto Rossellini's neorealism has traditionally been 
praised for its newsreel look and rejection of art-historical 
sources. However, the argument that Italian neorealism 
exists outside of art history is naive. In the Naples episode 
of Paisa (Paisan, 1946), for example, the relationship 
between figure and ground, with the big soldier and the 
small child sitting among the ruins, invokes the end of 
Renaissance painting's anthropocentric model. The 
urban landscape is an image of destruction and rubble, 
yet the two characters occupy the center of the frame so 
that the ruins amid which they sit acknowledge in reverse 
the humanist function of architecture in the Italian pic- 
torial tradition. 



Fine Art 

Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Awentura (1960) is an example of the European art film, everett collection, reproduced 


Bordwell's model of the European art film applies to 
the self-reflexive, modernist films of the sixties but does not 
include the pastiche-like postmodernist films that began to 
appear in the 1970s and 1980s. Back to the Future (Robert 
Zemeckis, 1985) contains many references to Duane 
Hanson's hyperrealist sculptures, while Bernardo 
Bertolucci's // Conformista {The Conformist, 1970) uses 
Rene Magritte's sleek irony and art-deco interiors. Lina 
Wertmiiller's use of spaces suspended in time for Film 
d'amore e d'anarchia {Love and Anarchy, 1973) echoes the 
metaphysical atmosphere found in the paintings of Giorgio 
de Chirico. It is also important to remember that there are 
many other art films that, on the one hand, do not entirely 
follow Bordwell's model and, on the other, may have little 
to do with postmodern nostalgia. Thanks to their under- 
standing of art-historical categories, these films are neither 
simply citational texts nor superficial and seductive pas- 
tiches compensating for an increasing sense of loss of 
memory and authenticity. And, finally, they are not always 
structured as travelogues of human alienation, a penchant 
triggered by neorealism's use of vignettes or sketches rather 
than coherent, causal narratives. 

Filmmakers such as F. W. Murnau, Eric Rohmer, 
Alain Cavalier, and Andrei Tarkovsky are aware of the 
history of art to the extent that they move beyond it, 
treating it as a convenient storehouse of images. Their 
films can be caUed "visual form" films because these 
filmmakers incorporate the insights of pictorial genres 
into their own work. By taking seriously the links 
between landscape painting and subjectivity in, for exam- 
ple, Nosferatu, Murnau models his images on Caspar 
David Friedrich's vistas with precipices and fogs, eerie 
peaks and huge rocks. Murnau frames from behind small 
and lonely human figures, which he juxtaposes against 
vast natural spaces filled with a sense of the sublime; the 
director's insertion of an internal viewer matches 
Friedrich's use of the so-called ruckenfigur, a lone figure 
in a landscape, to underline how that landscape can be a 
figment of someone's mind yearning for the divine or 
sensing the possibility of horror. Nosferatu is therefore an 
example of the crossover between film and art in the 
context of silent German expressionism as a national 
cinema. Visual form is relevant to the tension between 
neoclassical and French romantic painting in Eric 



Pine Art 

Rohmer's Die Marquise von O . . . {The Marquise of O, 
1976), an adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's novella. By 
juxtaposing the sensuality of the word to the introspective 
qualities of the image, Rohmer questions the opposition 
of Enlightenment rationality and romantic impetuous- 
ness. Tarkovsky in Andrei Rublev (1969) uses fluid cam- 
era movements and shots of doors and windows to 
explore the hypnotic power of religious icon painting. 
Likewise, by using many close-ups on objects and an 
austere color scheme, Alain Cavalier in Therese (1986) 
links the genre of still-life painting to the humility of 
servants and the subordination of femininity. 

Films that are part of a national cinema tradition 
(with or without a link to an avant-garde movement), 
modernist art films and postmodern pastiches, and vis- 
ual-form films overlap the flexibility of these categories 
and bears witness to the richness of the encounter 
between art and film. Although the heyday of the 
European art film is over, cinema from Asia, the 
Middle East, Latin America, and Africa deserves much 
closer examination in the light of the relation between 
film and art. For example, the Iranian filmmaker Abbas 
Kiarostami's use of detailed images and vast landscapes 
relies heavily on the style of Persian miniature painting in 
his films Ta'm e guilass {A Taste of Cherry, 1997) and Bad 
ma ra khahad bord (The Wind Will Carry Us, 1999). 
Sergei Parajanov's Sayat Nova {Color of Pomegranates, 
1968) combines Russian folk culture with performance 
art, while some of his compositions could easily be called 
installations and move from the screen to the art gallery. 
Although most of the critical work on film and art has 
relied on European case studies, it has become especially 
urgent to tackle Islamic and African visual traditions in 
order to achieve a better understanding of the art films 
that these areas of the world have produced. Japanese and 
Chinese cinema has drawn heavily from national tradi- 
tions of woodblock printing and scroll painting. 

American avant-garde filmmaking of the 1960s and 
1 960s was heavily influenced by minimalism in the visual 
arts. The films of Andy Warhol, Michael Snow, HoUis 

Frampton, and Paul Sharits are related to the work of 
artists such as Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, 
and Robert Smithson, all of whom worked in a variety of 
media. In the light of this awareness that what goes on in 
the art gallery relates to what happens on the screen, the 
American artist Eleanor Antin (b. 1935) coined the 
expression "black box, white cube" — the first term refer- 
ring to cinema, the second to the art gallery. This phrase 
has been increasingly used by artists working in film and 
video, perhaps because so many mixed-media installa- 
tions have blurred the boundaries between sculpture, 
film, architecture, video art, and painting. 

SEE ALSO Art Cinema; Expressionism; Surrealism 


Andrew, Dudley. Film in the Aura of Art. Princeton, NJ: 
Princeton University Press, 1984. 

Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: 
University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. 

Dalle Vacche, Angela. Cinema and Painting: How Art Is Used in 
Film. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996. 

, ed. The Visual Turn: Classical Film Theory and Art 

History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002. 

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema. Vol. 1: The Movement-Image. Vol. 2: 
The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara 
Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 

Desser, David, and Linda Ehrlich, eds. Cinematic landscapes: 
Observations on the Visual Arts and Cinema of China and 
Japan. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996. 

Eisner, Lotte. The Haunted Screen: German Expressionism and the 
Influence of Max Reinhardt. Translated by Roger Graves. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. 

Hollander, Anne. Moving Pictures. New York: Knopf: 1989. 

Schrader, Paul. Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. 

New York: Da Capo Press, 1998. 
Tashiro, Charles. Pretty Pictures: Production Design and the 

History Film. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. 

Angela Dalle Vacche 




During its heyday between 1930s and 1950s, domestic 
film production in Finland developed into a miniature 
image of the Hollywood film industry, yet with certain 
national characteristics based on the country's historical 
and political situation. Thus, for instance, due to Russian 
repression while Finland still was a Grand Duchy under 
the rule of Czarist Russia, film production was initially 
regarded as a national project aimed at reinforcing the 
identity of the Finnish people on the one hand, and at 
presentation of the country and its people to foreign 
nations on the other hand. Therefore, the first films 
made in Finland were short documentaries about the 
country's natural and industrial sites. 


Finland was an autonomous but oppressed part of the 
Russian Empire from the early nineteenth century until it 
became an independent republic in 1917. The first fea- 
ture made in Finland, Lbnnhrdnnarna {Bootleggers), 
premiered in 1907. The film, of which there remain only 
a few stills, was a result of a script contest aimed at 
creating a national cinema. However, Russian oppression 
and in its aftermath, the civil war — fought between 
Russian-inspired Bolsheviks and right-wing nationalists 
in 1917-1918 — discouraged other serious efforts. The 
struggles for the new independent republic of Finland, 
ruled by the nationalists, delayed the advance of the film 
industry for another decade. From this period there also 
exists one of the world's oldest film censorship authorities 
(Suomen Elokuvatarkastamo), a state office that came to 
influence the development of the objectives and quality 
of Finnish film. It had the authority to decide specifically 
not only which films could be exhibited, but which were 

"valuable" enough to be freed from the amusement tax. 
Throughout the early decades, a strong public notion in 
the country regarded cinema as "amusement" — as in 
opposition to art — dispensable, and hence, taxable. 

One of the central figures in the early history of 
Finnish filmmaking was Erkki Karu (1887—1935), who 
founded the production company Suomi-Filmi in 1919 
and directed a handful of successful rural melodramas. 
The decade of the 1930s was a consolidating period for 
the domestic film industry, during which Suomi-Filmi — 
together with Suomen FilmiteoUisuus, also established by 
Karu — became fully integrated production companies, 
dominant in the field until the period of decline in the 
1960s. Other important producers of features were 
Adams Filmi and Fennada-Filmi, while companies such 
as Aho & Soldan specialized in high-quality 

Toward the end of the silent era a handful of films 
were produced, many of which were Finnish plays and 
dramatic novels transformed into films. Apart from rural 
melodramas such as Koskenlaskijan morsian (1923) or 
classics like Kihlaus (1922), contemporary comedies in 
urban milieus, such as Kaikki rakastavat (1931), starring 
Finland's leading romantic leads Tauno Palo (1908- 
1982) and Ansa Ikonen (1913-1989), became 

Many were hesitant about investing in sound equip- 
ment in the early 1930s but what looked like a risk 
turned into a gold mine soon enough, for the Finnish 
people loved to hear their language spoken on the silver 
screen. The first sound film, Aatamin puvussa ja v 'dh 'dn 
Eevankin {Dressed Like Adam and a Bit Like Eve, Too) 




was released in January 1931. Successful foreign films, 
often Swedish, were adapted into Finnish milieux, and 
popular novels were transformed into film scripts. For 
the first time, domestic films could compete with foreign 
productions. However, few countries imported Finnish 
films. One of the most well-known films from the pre— 
World War II period, Varastettu kuolema {Stolen Death, 
1938), was to represent Finnish cinema in retrospectives 
and festivals, but it was exported to Sweden only. Its 
director, Nyrki Tapiovaara (1911-1940), directed but 
four features, and his heroic death during the last days 
of the Winter War of 1939-1940 has contributed to the 
myth of him as the lost genius of Finnish cinema. 
Varastettu kuolema was photographed by Erik Blomberg 
(1913-1996), who would direct Valkoinen Peura {The 
White Reindeer, 1952), one of the country's internation- 
ally acknowledged productions, which won the 
International Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953 
and the Golden Globe in the United States in 1957. 

The production pace was hectic during the war years 
(1939-1944) in spite of the impossible conditions, with a 
lack of film stock, the constant bombing of Helsinki, and 
many photographers and other male technicians called to 
the front. Due to obstacles such as commercial embargos, 
the influx of foreign films diminished, and distributors 
begged for new films. A number of costume melodramas 
such as Kulkurin valssi {The Vagabond Waltz, 1941) and 
Katariina ja Munkkinimen kreivi {Catherine and the 
Count of Munkkinimen, 1943) were made in response, 
as were popular military farces. Toward the end of the 
war, these farces pointedly ridiculed the hostile Soviet 
army, as in a series featuring two friends in arms called 
Ryhmy and Romppainen (1941, 1943, 1952). After the 
peace treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union in 
1944, the authorities withdrew the two first films from 
the market in order not to offend the Eastern neighbor, 
now an important trading partner. 


Apart from the control executed through the much- 
resented amusement tax, another means of state interfer- 
ence in the film industry was the grants and awards that 
were introduced during the latter half of the 1 940s. After 
the establishment of the Finnish Film Foundation in 
1969, the state also became a significant part in the 
production process — indeed, a prerequisite for the exis- 
tence of a film industry in the country. But far from 
gaining control as in "totalitarian state propaganda," the 
establishment of the Foundation was foremost a protec- 
tionist move reflecting nationalist sentiments. By the 
1960s, the attitudes toward cinema had changed in 
Nordic countries and to an increasing degree it was 
perceived as art in its own right. According to common 

understanding, therefore, the government is responsible 
for providing support for the artistic development of film 
as well as for literature and the fine arts. 

The Finnish authorities produced newsreels report- 
ing on the current political situation during World War 
II, and the documentary stock produced by the Finnish 
Army and now stored in their archives is quite extensive. 
The government-financed Suomi maksaa (Leistela, 
1951), a report of the nation's efforts to pay the heavy 
national debts caused by the war against the Soviet 
Union, was a typical documentary during the late 
1940s and 1950s. Finnish people were extremely proud 
of being the only nation in the post-World War II world 
that repaid the restoration loans guaranteed by the US 
government. The film breathes pride and self-confidence, 
not unlike the documentaries made during the early 
period of independence. 

The disillusionment that followed World War II 
affected the topics of feature films: light comedies and 
romantic stories gave way to social dramas depicting the 
problems of people living in the shadows of urban back- 
yards. Edvin Laine (1905-1989), one of the most sig- 
nificant of the postwar generation of film directors, 
produced Ristikon varjossa {Hunting Shadows) in 1945, 
and Laitakaupungin laulu in 1948. Laine also directed 
the most popular Finnish film ever, Tuntematon sotilas 
{The Unknown Soldier, 1955), the first realistic account 
of the war. The commercial success of the film uninten- 
tionally contributed to the crisis that ultimately brought 
about the bankruptcy of Suomen FilmiteoUisuus: to 
avoid paying tax on the millions in profit the film gen- 
erated, the company invested in too many hastily made 
new films of lesser quality. 

On top of the insecure situation during the 1960s, 
with increasing production costs and declining film 
attendance that necessitated closing down movie theaters, 
the film industry was hit by a strike initiated by the Actors' 
Union, which was displeased with actors' salaries. The 
strike did not stop film production, however, but instead, 
introduced a whole new generation of actors, most notably 
in Kapy seldn alia (1966), directed by Mikko Niskanen 
(1929-1990) with a script written by Marjaana Mikkola. 
Women screenwriters are not uncommon in the history of 
Finnish film: already in the 1920s, plays by dramatists 
such as Minna Canth (1844-1897) and Maria Jotuni 
(1880-1943) were adapted into films, and Valentin 
Vaala's (1909-1976) popular comedies in the 1930s to 
1940s were the results of his cooperation with his leading 
lady. Lea Joutseno (1910-1977), and the writer Kersti 
Bergroth (1886-1975). 

Yet it is hard not to see the history of Finnish cinema 
as a cavalcade of a handful of men: Risto Orko (1899- 
2001), the CEO of Suomi-Filmi, and Toivo Sarkka 




(1890-1975), the head of Suomen FilmiteoUisuus, domi- 
nated the country's screens as directors for over thirty 
years. The first women directors appeared in the early 
1960s. Ritva Arvelo (b. 1921) won the state award (an 
unnamed monetary award) with Kultainen vasikka 
(1961). Yet another twenty years would pass before 
women were able to establish themselves in the industry: 
Tuija-Maija Niskanen (b. 1943), the director of Suuri 
illusioni {Grand Illusion, 1985), and Kaisa Rastimo 
(b. 1961) vdth her Sdadyllinen murhendytelmd {A Respectable 
Tragedy, 1998) are among the most important. One of 
the most successful women in Finnish cinema since the 
early 1980s has been Pirjo Honkasalo (b. 1947), whose 
documentaries Atman (1996) and Melancholian 3 
Huonetta {The 3 Rooms of Meloncholia, 2004) have 
received awards at numerous film festivals around the 

The establishment of the Finnish Film Foundation 
contributed to structural changes within the industry 
during the 1970s. The old companies with their complex 

administration systems disappeared and smaller compa- 
nies, often managed by the filmmakers themselves, 
emerged. This was in line with the contemporary view 
of the film director as auteur with full control over 
production, including right to the final cut. Such a view 
brought about a generation of independent film directors 
writing their own scripts and, like Jorn Donner 
(b. 1933), establishing their own production companies, 
Donner, also a well-known author, directed films such as 
Sixtynine (1969) and Perkele! Kuvia Suomesta (1971), 
examples of the soft porn wave of the period, whereas 
Risto Jarva's (1935-1977) productions reflected the era's 
social criticism with films such as Bensaa suonissa {Gas in 
the Veins, 1970) and Jdniksen vuosi {The Year of the Hare, 

By the end of the millennium yet another significant 
change had taken place. It was clear that no Nordic 
country alone could generate the funds needed for the 
production of a feature film; cooperation was needed 
between the countries and their respective film institutes 




and television companies. The result was lengthy fund- 
raising and decision-making processes whereby only pres- 
tigious "heritage"-style productions became possible to 
realize, such as Talvisota {The Winter War, Pekka 
Parikka, 1989) with its painstaking and elaborated mass 
scenes depicting the battles of the Winter War. 

From the 1980s on, the Finnish solution to the 
situation was provided by another generation of film 
directors with AM (b. 1957) and Mika Kaurismaki 
(b. 1955) in the lead, making-low budget fdms with small, 
mobile units. While Mika Kaurismaki has invested in an 
international career, Aki has stayed in Finland faithful to 
his austere, stylized, and self-reflexive style in films such as 
Tulitikkutehtaan tytto {The Match Factory Girl, 1990) and 
Mies vailla menneisyyttd {The Man Without a Past, 2002). 
In his films Aki Kaurismaki has tended to scrutinize 
nostalgic sentiments addressing the popular collective 
memory of the postwar Finnish generations. Other direc- 
tors of his generation utilize heightened realism with 
postmodern tendencies such as split narrative and pas- 
tiched characters. Timo Koivusalo's (b. 1963) biopic 
Rentun ruusu (2001), about the life of popular 1970s 
protest singer Irwin Goodman, or Pekka Lehto's Tango 

Kabaree {Tango Cabaret, 2001), featuring the dancer and 
celebrity Aira Samulin, are but two examples. Such forms 
of remembrance have not always ended up as box-office 
hits, whereas films depicting the wars of independent 
Finland always seem to manage to cover their costs. 

SEE ALSO National Cinema; World War II 

Cowie, Peter. Finnish Cinema. Helsinki: Suomen eiokuvasaatio, 

Hillier, Jim, ed. Cinema in Finland. London: British Film 
Institute, 1975. 

Nestingen, Andrew, and Trevor G. Elkington, eds. Transnational 

Cinema in a Global North: Nordic Cinema in Transition. 
Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005. 

Soila, Tytti, ed. The Cinema of Scandinavia. London: Wallflower 
Press, 2005. 

Soila, Tytti, Astrid Soderbergh Widding, and Gunnar Iversen. 
Nordic National Cinemas. London and New York: Routledge, 

Tytti Soila 




Since World War I, French cinema has defined itself 
through its ambivalent relations with Hollywood cinema. 
Although French cinema was the dominant force in the 
international market until World War I, its influence 
extending as far as Australia, in the decades that followed 
the industry struggled to maintain its hold on French 
audiences. French stars, valued for their independence 
and their ability to represent "Frenchness" globally, have 
played an important role in this crusade. Though many 
would argue that this has been a losing battle, French 
product continues to dominate French screens, though, 
as often as not, it is the television screen that viewers 
watch today. Yet, initially, it was the French who discov- 
ered cinema as we know it. 

SILENT CINEMA: 1895-1929 

The invention of the cinema was credited to Auguste 
(1862-1954) and Louis Lumiere (1864-1948), two 
brothers, who organized what is widely believed to be 
the first film screening on 28 December 1895, at the 
Grand Cafe in Paris, using the Lumiere brothers' 
Cinematograph, which was both camera and projector. 
Though the American inventor Thomas Edison (1847- 
1931) had created film stock itself as early as 1889, it was 
the Lumiere brothers who invented cinema as a mass 
entertainment event in which spectators were seated in 
front of a projected image, showing films such as 
L'Arrivee d'un train a la Ciotat {Arrival of a Train at La 
Ciotat, 1895), La Sortie des usines Lumiere {Employees 
Leaving the Lumiere Factory, 1895) and Demolition d'un 
mur {Demolition of a Wall, 1896). Their cinematogra- 
phers, who traveled throughout the world shooting nota- 
ble events, assembled a catalog of over one thousand 

films during the next two years. In France, their major 
competitor was Georges Melies (1861-1938), with his 
Kinetograph. His production company Star Film, 
founded in 1896, specialized in fantastic, magical tales, 
in contrast with the Lumire brothers, who concentrated 
on actualites. After making between six hundred and 
eight hundred films. Star Film went bankrupt in 1914, 
and Melies ceased producing films in 1919. 

A third significant figure in the development of 
French cinema was Charles Pathe (1863-1957) with 
his Eknetographe. Pathe founded Pathe Freres with his 
brother Emile in September 1896, and from 1902 his 
emblem, the red rooster, was synonymous with cinema 
around the world. Charles Pathe left France for the 
United States in 1914 because several of the most impor- 
tant branches of his company were located in territory 
occupied by the Germans. One of Pathe's major contri- 
butions to the development of cinema was to inaugurate 
in 1907 the tripartite system of production, distribution, 
and exhibition that characterizes the modern film indus- 
try. Under this system, exhibitors rent films through 
distribution companies. The number of film production 
companies quickly multiplied to include that of Leon 
Gaumont, who boasted the Chronophotographe and the 
first film director, Alice Guy (1873-1968). 

The period of 1908 to 1914 is generally considered 
the golden age of comedy. During this era such stars as 
Max Linder (1882—1925), a brilliant comic actor who 
exerted a strong influence on comedians such as Charlie 
Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and such directors as Jean 
Durand (1882-1946), as well as the animator Emile 
Cohl (1857-1938), came to the fore. Adaptations of 
novels were common, and feature-length films began to 




appear in 1911, as well as detective serials, associated 
with director Louis Feuillade (1873-1925). This period 
also saw the advent of Le Film d'Art, a company founded 
in February 1908, partly funded by Pathe. Le Film d'Art 
was noted for its production of quality filmed historical 
drama, such as L'Assassinat du Due de Guise {The 
Assassination of the due de Guise, 1908), directed by 
Andre Calmettes (1861-1942) and Charles Le Bargy 
(1858-1936) (who also took a leading role), with music 
by Camille Saint-Saens. 

Competition from American and Scandinavian pro- 
ducers had already weakened French international 
hegemony by 1912. Beginning in August 1914 with the 
onset of World War \, French film production dropped 
virtually to zero. After six months of inactivity, film 
production began again slowly with films like 
Feuillade's serial The Vampires (1915), which introduced 
one of the silent cinema's greatest stars, Musidora (1889- 
1957), who achieved great popularity in her role as the 
vamp Irma Vep. 


The most salient feature of post- World War I France for 
future film scholars was the coalescence of the film cul- 
ture around France's first cinephiles and first avant-garde. 
Inspired by the influx of Hollywood films, a generation 
of young intellectuals took an interest in the cinema. An 
avant-garde sensibility emerged, championed by the jour- 
nahst turned director, Louis Delluc (1890-1924), that 
had a profound influence on the development of cinema 
as a national art form, most notably on the New Wave in 
the post- World War II era. Although Delluc died in 
1924, he gave his name to a prestigious prize for best 
film, and his writing influences French thought and film 
scholarship to this day. 

For Delluc, cinema must be "cinematic " and 
"French." It must express the specificity of the cinematic 
medium as an art form while countering the tendencies of 
film as entertainment. Impressionism, associated with 
Delluc, was a loose and often inconsistent body of thought. 
The Impressionists reacted against the pictorial-realist tra- 
dition of French cinema by seeking inspiration in the 
editing and camera styles of new Hollywood directors, 
who had evolved away from a strictly documentary or 
theatrical presentation of story. Though often dismissed 
as melodramatic by contemporary audiences, films such 
as La Roue {The Wheel, Abel Gance, 1923) and 
L'Inhumaine {The New Enchantment, Marcel L'Herbier, 
1923) exploited rhythmic editing, point-of-view shots, soft 
focus, and optical devices such as superimpositions to con- 
vey subjective experience. Writer-filmmakers associated 
with the movement such as Germaine Dulac (1882- 
1942) pursued the idea that film fiinctioned like a lan- 

guage; however, the conviction that film was an art form 
rather than merely a vehicle for entertainment was 
Impressionism's most important legacy. Following his 
death, Delluc's influence was evident in the work of such 
directors as Dulac, Jean Epstein (1897-1953), Abel Gance 
(1889-1981), and Marcel L'Herbier (1888-1979), who 
remained affected by Impressionism goals while often mov- 
ing in different directions. Dadaism and surrealism inspired 
a second avant-garde in 1923 and 1924. The American 
photographer Man Ray (Emanuel Rabinovich; 1890- 
1976) and the painter Fernand Leger (1881-1955) created 
experimental films that resembled the essay films of Dulac 
and the fantasies of the Brazilian expatriate director, 
Alberto Cavalcanti (1897-1982). Two directors who 
would leave their mark on French cinema as part of this 
movement were Rene Clair (1898-1981) and Luis Bunuel 

Though largely ignored by intellectuals, French cin- 
ema as a popular narrative form thrived during this 
period. Rarely exported, French popular film continued 
to appeal to French audiences, with serials such as 
L'Enfant rot (The Child King, Jean Kemm, 1923), or 
Fanfan-la-Tulipe {Fanfan the Tulip, Rene Leprince, 
1925). Successful directors of the period included Julien 
Duvivier (1896-1967), Raymond Bernard (1891-1977), 
and Jacques Feyder (1885-1948). Facing increasing pro- 
duction costs, studios during this time inaugurated the 
European co-production, often working with German 
production companies. 

Two of the most influential production companies, 
Ermoliefif Films and Alexander Kamenka's L'Albatros, 
were founded by Russian emigres, and produced films 
destined for the emigre audience as well as French works. 
This group of emigre Russians, known as les Russes de 
Montreuil (the Russians of Montreuil), included such 
directors as Yakov Protozanov (1881-1945), Victor 
(Vyatcheslaw) Tourjansky (1891-1976), and Alexander 
Volkov (1885-1942), as well as technicians and actors 
and actresses. Kamenka produced notable works of 
French cinema, such as Clair's Un Chapeau de paille 
d'ltalie {An Italian Straw Hat, 1928), and Les Deux 
timides {Two Timid Souls, 1928). Later Kamenka pro- 
duced Les Bas-fonds {The Lower Depths, Jean Renoir, 
1936), which won the Louis Delluc Prize. 

During this period, many stars were recruited from 
the stage or cabarets, including Maurice Chevalier 
(1888-1972), already a star of the Parisian music halls, 
who attained prominence in a series of movies foresha- 
dowing the great success he would achieve in America in 
the 1930s. Other stars from theater included Michel 
Simon (1895-1975), Gaby Morlay (1893-1964), and 
Albert Prejean (1893-1979). Simon, in particular, repre- 
sented the French tradition of the "monstre sacre," or 




"eccentric," the flamboyant character actor with a singu- 
larly striking physiognomy, used to great efl«ct in, for 
example, Renoir's Boudu sauve des eaux (Boudu Saved 
from Drowning, 1932). 

By the end of the 1920s, French cinema had recov- 
ered from the effects of World War I. Though the batde 
with Hollywood at the international box office had been 
lost, French cinema had acquired the position of a 
national art form that was distinct from the entertain- 
ments produced for the masses. Paradoxically, 
Hollywood films, because of their impact on the avant- 
garde during the war years, were a primary influence in 
creating a French cinema that was cinematic and French, 
in the terms defined by Delluc. It is in Hollywood film 
that the Impressionists found their inspiration — in the 
camera work and editing of D.W. Griffith (1875-1948), 
die lighting of Cecil B. DeMiUe (1881-1959), and die 
dreamlike scenarios of Charlie ChapUn (1889-1977). 
And it is Hollywood that left its imprint on the founda- 
tional avant-garde films of the dadaists and the surreal- 
ists — films such as Dulac's La Coquille et Le Clergyman 
{The Seashell and the Clergyman, 1928), and Buiiuel's Un 
Chien andalou {An Andalusian Dog, 1929) — setting 
French cinema apart as the international forerunner of 
the "film-as-art" movement, a place that France arguably 
retained throughout the remainder of the twentieth 

Although Hollywood was the object of polemical 

discussion, other national cinemas such as Russian cin- 
ema, particularly through emigre producers, and German 
cinema, in terms of financial backing, also influenced the 
directions of French cinema. French popular cinema — in 
the form of comedies and serials, as well as the popular 
policier (later known as the polar) or police film — con- 
tinued to be effective in French theaters, constituting a 
parallel strand to the higher profile films praised by the 
intellectual elite. With the advent of sound, French cin- 
ema as art would encounter its biggest challenge. 

CLASSICAL ERA: 1929-1940 

The first sound studios opened in France in the autumn of 
1929, inaugurating the golden age of filmed theater, and 
also precipitating an aesthetic crisis manifested in heated 
debate about the nature of cinematic art. While adherents 
to the legacy of Impressionism, such as Gance and 
L'Herbier, clung to the primacy of the image as the 
fundamental element of film language, directors like 
Duvivier and Renoir embraced sound as integral to the 
film medium. The film industry was also subject to finan- 
cial crisis and over the decade was reorganized around 
companies like La Societe Nouvelle des Etablissements 
Gaumoimt (the SNEG) and the Societe Nouvelle Pathe- 

Cinema (SNPC). Nonetheless, some of the great films of 
the French cinema were produced between 1934 and 
World War II, in part as the result of an influx of directors 
and technicians fleeing the Nazis from other countries. 
One such figure was the German director Max Ophiils 
(1902—1957), creator of the film La Tendre ennemie {The 
Tender Enemy, 1936), who became a French citizen in 
1938. The production of feature films stabilized at about 
100 to 120 films per year, a level of production that 
remained more or less the norm for the rest of the century. 

Two directors who forged their own style within the 
confines of the filmed theater genre were Marcel Pagnol 
(1895-1974) and Sacha Guitry (1885-1957). Pagnol, a 
successful director, writer, and producer, established his 
own studios in the South of France and produced a body 
of work associated with that region. Films for which he 
wrote the screenplay include the "Pagnol trilogy," made 
up of Marius (1931), Fanny (1932), and Cesar (1936), 
dealing with the "little people" of Marseilles. The success 
of these films owed much to the superb performances of 
the actors, including (Jules) Raimu (1883-1946), Pierre 
Fresnay (1897-1975), Fernand Charpin (1887-1944), 
and Orane Demazis (1894-1991). Because of the 
subtlety and originality of his productions, and also 
because of the way that his work constituted an early 
exploration of regional identity, Pagnol's talent was rec- 
ognized by critics such as Andre Bazin who, in principle, 
opposed the filmed theater style. Renoir's Toni (1935), a 
pivotal film in the development of the Italian neorealism, 
is one of the many films that demonstrated the impor- 
tance of Pagnol's work for the future of French cinema. 
Both Pagnol's films and novels would influence the 
development of what is commonly called heritage cinema 
in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Guitry, less well 
known outside of France, was an actor and writer as well 
as a director. In his films of this period, he captured the 
essence of Parisian light comedy, a genre that disappeared 
during World War II. During this period French cinema 
also continued to borrow from the tradition of the music 
hall with films such as Zouzou (1934), starring the 
African American singer-dancer Josephine Baker (1906— 

In May 1936 the Popular Front, a historic alliance of 
leftist and radical interests, came to power, ruling until 
October 1938. This period, which saw the introduction 
of major social changes, such as paid holidays, trade 
union rights, and a public health service, unleashed a 
burst of creative intellectual and artistic energy, especially 
at the cooperative Cine-Liberte, of which Renoir was a 
member. The rise and ascendancy of the Popular Front 
manifested itself in films that emphasized the worker. 
Renoir, for example, directed Le Crime de Monsieur 
Lange {The Crime of Monsieur Lange, 1936), the story 
of a worker's cooperative, the epic La Marseillaise (1938), 




b. Albert Cranche, Paris, France, 18 August 1909, d. 31 October 1996 

Marcel Carne is a controversial figure in French cinema, 
for while many see in his work an outmoded classicism 
that was transcended by the directors of the French New 
Wave, others find in it evidence of the vitality of studio 
filmmaking in the 1930s. Carne trained as a photographer 
and worked in journalism before hiring on as an assistant 
to Rene Clair and Jacques Feyder. Carne's first feature, 
Jenny (1936), starring Franjoise Rosay, marked the 
beginning of his long and productive collaboration with 
the poet and scriptwriter Jacques Prevert. 

Carne's genius lay in his ability to gather a team of 
creative artists: screenwriters (including Prevert), designers 
(including Alexander Trauner), composers (Maurice 
Jaubert, Joseph Kosma), and a bevy of French actors, 
including Jules Berry, Louis Jouvet, Michel Simon, and 
Arletty (Arlette-Leonie Bathiat). His most famous film is 
Les Enfants de paradis (Children of Paradise, 1945), which 
portrays the love affair between a demi-mondain 
(courtesan) and an actor. 

From the mid- 1930s until the late 1940s, Carne was 
one of the most respected and powerful directors in 
France. He initially influenced the direction of French 
cinema through his writing in Cinemagazine, inspiring 
poetic realism. Poetic realism, which Carne later called le 
fantastique social (social fantasy), espoused a pessimistic 
view of the human condition, which he conveyed through 
artful composition, careful mise-en-scene, polished acting. 

high-key lighting, and tragic endings. His films in this 
style include Hotel du Nord (1938), Le Jour se live 
(Daybreak, 1939), and Le Quai des brumes {Port of 
Shadows, 1938), which sparked controversy for its morbid 
subject matter. 

For better or for worse, Carne and his team 
communicated to a popular audience a pervasive 
atmosphere of melancholy that remains a milestone in 
French cinema. Following the end of his partnership with 
Prevert with Les Portes de la nuit ( The Gates of Night, 
1946) and La Marie du port {Mary of the Port, 1950), 
Carne lost his best collaborators, and his subsequent films 
were less accomplished. 


Jenny (1936), Drole de drame, ou L'etrange aventure de Docteur 
Molyneux {Bizarre, Bizarre, 1937), Port of Shadows (1938), 
Hotel du Nord (1938), Daybreak (1939), Les Visiteurs du 
soir {The Devil's Envoys, 1942), Children of Paradise 
(1945), Gates of Night (1946) 


Andrew, Dudley. Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in 

Classic French Film. Princeton, NJ: University of 

Princeton Press, 1995. 
Williams, Alan. Republic of Images: A History of French 

Filmmaking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 


Hilary Ann Radner 

and was involved in the making of La Vie est a nous {The 
People of France, 1936), a communist propaganda film. 
Though light comedies and musicals were more popular 
with the public, these films were praised by critics and 
film historians. With the defeat of the Popular Front, the 
melancholic tendencies of poetic realism became more 
marked and were reflected in narratives dealing with 
doomed love affairs, betrayals, and murders, usually set 
in Paris in working-class settings. Such films are exem- 
plified by Le Quai des brumes {Port of Shadows, 1938) and 
Le Jour se live {Daybreak, 1939) by Marcel Carne (1909- 
1996). Both films starred Jean Gabin (1904-1976), who, 
with Arletty (Arlette-Leonie Bathiat; 1898-1992), came 
to incarnate French working-class values, especially in 
terms of their spoken delivery, which was marked by a 

strong demotic accent. In addition to Carne, directors 
associated with this style were Renoir, Duvivier, and Jean 
GremiUon (1901-1959). 

Renoir, who began his career with films like La Fille 
de I'eau {Whirlpool of Fate, 1925) and Nana (1926), both 
with the actress Catherine Hessling (1900-1979), is con- 
sidered by many to be the most significant director of 
this period. His films ran the gamut of possible genres, 
from poetic realist films to avant-garde films, from com- 
edies to popular melodramas, and from literary adapta- 
tion to Popular Front propaganda. Renoir's La Grande 
illusion {The Grand Lllusion, 1937) and La Bete humaine 
{The Human Beast, 1938), both with Gabin, and his 
masterpiece. La Regie du jeu { The Rules of the Game, 
1939), with Marcel Dalio (1900-1983), were box-office 




Marcel Came'. EVERETT collection, reproduced by 


triumphs. His career was interrupted by World War II, 
which he spent in Hollywood. 

THE WAR YEARS: 1940 TO 1944 

Though films were banned if deemed too demoralizing, 
the film industry was active during the nine months of 
French-German hostility in 1939 and 1940. Film pro- 
duction stopped completely during the summer of 1940; 
however, this hiatus inaugurated one of the most pros- 
perous, if not the most creative, periods of French 

Following the surrender of France to Germany, a 
new government was established at the small spa town of 
Vichy, in the unoccupied zone of central France, under 
the leadership of Marechal Henri Philippe Petain (1856- 
1951). Although autocratic and reactionary, the Vichy 
regime initiated an ambitious program to restore France 
to her former glory, including an effort to construct a 
quasi-mystical idealized vision of France grounded in a 
conservative social agenda and a focus on youth. The 
Vichy regime was quick to recognize the strategic impor- 
tance of the film industry in advancing this agenda and 
almost immediately put in place structures that both 
supported and regulated the industry. In 1940, the 
Comite d'Organisation des Industries du Cinema 
(Committee for the Organization of the Film Industry) 

was established, as was the COIC, which would become 
the Centre National de la Cinematographie (National 
Center for Cinematography), the CNC, in 1946. The 
COIC immediately set up regulations for the film indus- 
try and also a system of state support. Notably, the 
COIC created what would become IDHEC, Institut 
des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques (Institute for 
Film Studies) in 1944, under the direction of L'Herbier. 

Financially, the COIC had a positive effect in terms 
of underwriting the French film industry, although it also 
served as a censorship arm of the Vichy government. In 
particular, it had an important function in terms of 
imposing restrictions on the activities of Jews in the film 
sector. A number of members of the film community 
fled to the United States, including such directors as 
Renoir, Clair, Duvivier, and Ophiils, as well as such 
actors as Cabin and Michele Morgan (b. 1920). Others, 
like Pierre Chenal (1904-1990) and Louis Jouvet (1887- 
1951), took refuge in Latin America. In certain respects 
French cinema in 1 94 1 was severely handicapped; none- 
theless, the Vichy period proved to be a prosperous time 
for the industry overall. Cinemas were a popular haven 
from the cold and from the political and social pressures 
of the period. British and then American films were not 
available. For three years Hollywood was not a compet- 
itor in the French market, so audiences chose between 
German films, French films, and a few Italian films. A 
single national market encouraged big-budget produc- 
tions, such as Les Enfants du paradis {The Children of 
Paradise, 1945), which was begun by Carne in 1943 as an 
Italian co-production. 

The 220 feature-length films that constitute the 
Vichy cinema are not linked by any specific style or topic. 
The number of films that espoused right-wing views was 
no higher than during the prewar years (1934-1940); 
however, there was no counterbalancing progressive or 
leftist perspective. The settings lacked specificity — 
German uniforms and flags were rarely present within 
the frame — and the past, especially the nineteenth 
century, was preferred to the present. Popular genres 
included light comedies, thrillers, musicals, costume 
dramas, and a few fantasy films. A significant number 
of directors from the 1930s continued working through 
the 1940s, including Guitry, Pagnol, Gremillon, and 
Carne. New directors emerged from the ranks, including 
Jean Delannoy (b. 1908), Louis Daquin (1908-1980), 
Andre Cayatte (b. 1909), Claude Autant-Lara (1901- 
2000), Jacques Becker (1906-1960), Henri-Georges 
Clouzot (1907-1977), and Robert Bresson (1901- 
1999). Significant Vichy films include La fiUe du puisat- 
ier (The Well-Digger's Daughter, Pagnol, 1940), Lumiere 
d'ete {Light of Summer, Gremillon, 1943), L'Assassin hab- 
ite au 21 {The Murderer Lives at Number 21, Clouzot, 
1942), and Les Anges du peche {Angels of the Streets, 




Bresson, 1943), based on a screenplay by Jean 

The end of the war and Liberation would present yet 
another challenge to the film industry. With Liberation 
came the creation of the Committee for the Liberation of 
Cinema and a journal, L'Ecran franqais (French Screen), 
which appeared in July 1945. In the immediate postwar 
period, the French film industry was in crisis. Its equip- 
ment was outmoded or destroyed by the war and its 
personnel dispersed and demoralized. Most felt that the 
only solution was continuing the state regulation and 
support inaugurated by Vichy. In 1946 the CNC was 
created as an autonomous institution with the mandate 
of regulating and supporting the French film industry. It 
was funded through taxes levied on the industry itself. In 
the same year the Blum-Byrnes agreement was signed, 

which stipulated that during four weeks out of the year 
only French films could be shown in a given theater. In 
1948, the period was extended to five weeks. In 1949, 
France signed an agreement with Italy that gave certain 
advantages to Franco-Italian co-productions. This agree- 
ment in turn supported the development of what came to 
be known as the Tradition of Quality. 

The creation of the CNC, the regulations providing 
state-mandated support, the normalization of relations 
with the United States, and the creation of a film market 
enlarged initially by the addition of Italy laid down the 
basis for what has come to be known as the French mode 
of production — a compromise between state regulation 
and free trade under the guidance of the CNC. If, 
through its inception, this system was subject to contro- 
versy, in time it garnered strong popular support, partic- 
ularly when other national cinemas in Europe suffered 
marked decline in the 1980s. 




Though economically healthy, the industry was 
rigid, and from an artistic perspective it languished dur- 
ing the immediate post- World War II period. French 
cinema remained under the threat of censorship through- 
out the 1950s, when it touched on politically sensitive 
current events, such as the economic situation, the after- 
math of World War II, the Cold War, the war in 
Indochina, and the Algerian War. This censorship pro- 
gram was effective particularly in terms of fostering a 
climate of self-censorship among directors and producers. 
By tacit agreement, there was little or no material pro- 
duced that reflected on the war years or, more specifi- 
cally, the problem of collaboration. 

The French fdm industry was characterized by 
inflexibility, not only in terms of subject matter, but also 
in terms of personnel. Films were stylized, reflecting the 
domination of the industry by cinematographers and 
technicians who were protected and nurtured by the 
unionized structures of the big studios. Directors typi- 
cally served long years of apprenticeship and were often 
forty years old before making a first film. One of the few 
directors to emerge in this period was Yves Allegret 
(1907-1986), who remained limited by his adherence 
to the traditions of the past. New, more notable actors 
and actresses included Simone Signoret (1921-1985), 
Gerard Philipe (1922-1959), and Madeleine Robinson 

This period was identified with the Tradition of 
Quality — dismissed by young critics of the period, such 
as Francois Truffaut (1932-1984), as "cinema de papa" 
(daddy's movies). The Tradition of Quality emphasized 
craft over innovation, privileged established directors 
over new directors, and preferred the great works of the 
past to experimentation. Literary adaptation provided 
fertile ground for this decade, on the part of those who 
were anxious to prove the cultural superiority of French 
film in the face of a massive influx of Hollywood movies 
into the French market. Gremillon, Guitry, Pagnol, 
Renoir, Clair, and Duvivier continued to make films, 
as did the new generation that emerged during the 
Occupation. Autant-Lara, Clement, Georges Rouquier 
(1909-1989), Clouzot, Becker, Ophuls, Jean Cocteau 
(1889-1963), Bresson, and Jacques Tati (1908-1982) 
made significant films during this period. Characteristic 
Tradition of Quality films include Douce {Love Story, 
Autant-Lara, 1943), La Symphonie pastorale (Delannoy, 
1946), and Casque d'or {Golden Marie, Becker, 1952). 
Actors associated with the Tradition of Quality are 
Philipe, Martine Carol (1922-1967), and Simone 
Signoret. Philipe's polished acting style and the sophisti- 
cated mature femininity of Carol and Signoret contrasted 
the youthful insouciance of the actors who would be used 
by the directors of the later New Wave. 

The cine-club movement, inaugurated by Delluc in 
the 1920s, became a significant force in French culture 
and in the development of French cinema. The cine- 
phile — the amateur fanatic of film and film history — 
appeared as a distinct character on the French cultural 
scene and was defined as specifically French, as the word 
itself suggests. The cine-club produced a new type of film 
spectator, film critic, and eventually director, preparing 
the way for the French New Wave. Such film critics as 
Andre Bazin, Alexandre Astruc, Truffaut, and Ado Kyrou 
(Adonis Kyrou) revived the debates of the Impressionists 
in the context of post-World War II France. Cahiers du 
Cinema (1951) and Positif {1952) replaced L'Ecran fran- 
(ais (1943-1953) and remained important venues for 
discussion about film throughout the twentieth century. 
This lively intellectual climate was a major force in the 
dramatic changes in film aesthetics and the film industry 
that subsequently took place. 

The government also played a role in fostering a new 

generation and a new type of director. A regulation elim- 
inating the double-bill (two feature-length films) created a 
renaissance of short films, as did the new system of sup- 
porting film projects based on quality that had been 
inaugurated by the CNC during this period. Such direc- 
tors as Alain Resnais (b. 1922), Georges Franju (1912- 
1987), and Pierre Kast (1920-1984), later known as part 
of le groupe de trente (the group of thirty), were already 
making short films that fell outside the Tradition of 
Quality. These short films were distributed via the cine- 
clubs and the art et essai theaters, that is, small theaters that 
were the equivalent of the art house theater in Great 
Britain and the United States. By the end of the 1950s, 
the old guard had been successfully challenged in the 
popular arena by young filmmakers, such as Roger 
Vadim (1928-2000) with Et Dieu...crea la femme 
{And. . . God created Woman, 1955). Critical reception of 
the outsider filmmakers was equally positive, as in the case 
of Jean-Pierre Melville's (1917-1973) Le Silence de la mer 
(Silence of the Sea, 1949), Astruc's Le Rideau cramoisi 
{The Crimson Curtain, 1953) and Les Mauvaises rencontres 
{Bad Liaisons, 1955), La Pointe-courte (Agnes Varda, 
1956), Ascenseur pour I'echafaud {Elevator to the Gallows, 
Louis Malle, 1958), Un Amour de poche {Girl in His 
Pocket, Kast, 1958), and Goha (Jacques Baratier, 1958). 
Some of these films, such as La Pointe-courte, starring 
Philippe Noiret (b. 1930), encountered legal problems 
that forced them to be shown clandestinely in the first 
instance and prevented widespread distribution until many 
years later. On the whole, however, most members of the 
CNC were sympathetic to the ideals of the young film- 
makers and were instrumental in supporting the changes 
to the cinema that characterized the late 1950s and early 




b. Frangois Roland Truffaut, Paris, France, 6 February 1932, d. 21 October 1984 

As a director, Franfois TrufFaut incarnates the virtues and 
weaknesses of the French NewWave. Much of his work 
reflects the troubled circumstances of his early life — 
illegitimacy, abandonment, and foster care. At age sixteen, 
TrufFaut came under the influence of Andre Bazin, who 
served as a father figure and introduced him to the film society 
Objectif 49, a group that would become a forum for New 
Criticism. A noted critic from 1950, Truffaut wrote many 
periodical articles, including "Une Certaine tendance 
du cinema franfaise" (1954), in which he attacked the 
Tradition of Quality and set the agenda to revitalize 
French cinema. 

Truffaut's work as a director is uneven. His first film, 
Les Quatre cents coups {The 400 Blows, 1959), starring 
Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoine Doinel, was considered a 
triumph for a new generation of filmmakers because in it 
Truffaut introduced a more personal, spontaneous style 
that thumbed its nose at the stilted academic work of the 
studio directors who had dominated French film 
production during the postwar years. This film was 
financed by Truffaut's first wife, Madeleine Morgenstern, 
whose father owned one of the most powerful French 
distribution companies of the time, Cocinor. Despite his 
obsessive love of other women, she supported him 
throughout his career and was at his bedside when he died 
of a brain tumor at age fifty-two. 

In a number of subsequent films, Truffaut used the 
Doinel character (played by Leaud) as an alter ego to mirror 
his own life, from the misunderstood child and troubled 
delinquent of The 400 Blows to the tormented lover and 
failed husband approaching middle age in L'Amour en fuite 
{Love on the Run, 1978). Truffaut is at his best when 
immersed in the study of character, as in Jules et Jim {Jules 
and Jim, 1962), in which the innocence, generosity, and 
tenderness of the three main characters is very sensitively 
captured, and at his worst when he attempts to imitate 
Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, for whom 
he professed a strong admiration. An example of an 
unsuccessful effort to imitate a Hitchcock thriller is La 

Mariee etait en noir {The Bride Wore Black, 1968), which 
even Truffaut declared he did not like much. 

Truffaut's influence on cinema was international in 
scope. He conveyed in his films and in his writing an 
apparently inexhaustible and infectious enthusiasm for the 
possibility of authentic personal expression in the cinema. 
Perhaps his most moving film after The 400 Blows, 
L'Enfant Sauvage {The Wild Child, 1970) stars Truffaut as 
a scientist who attempts to communicate with an 
abandoned autistic child. Throughout his life, Truffaut 
believed that human communication could transcend 
language and culture. No doubt, his influence on young 
filmmakers derives from this faith. 


Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), Tirez sur le 
pianiste {Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), Jules et Jim (Jules 
and Jim, 1962), La Mariee etait en noir {The Bride Wore 
Black, 1968), Basiers voles {Stolen Kisses, 1968), La Sirene 
du Mississippi {Mississippi Mermaid, 1969), Le' Enfant 
Sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970), Domicile conjugal {Bed & 
Board, 1970), Deux anglaises et le continent {Two English 
Girls, 1971), La Nuit americaine {Day for Night, 1973), 
L'Histoire d'Adele H. {The Story ofAdele H, 1975), 
L Argent de poche {Small Change, 1976), L'Homme qui 
aimait les femmes {The Man Who Loved Women, 1977) 


Crisp, C. G. Francois Truffaut. London and New York: 
Praeger, 1972. 

De Baecque, Antoine, and Serge Toubiana. Truffaut: A 
Biography. Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: 
Knopf, 1999. 

Petrie, Graham. The Cinema of Frangois Truffaut. New York: 
A. S. Barnes and London: Zwemmer, 1970. 

Truffaut, Franfois. The Films in My Life. Translated by 
Leonard Mayhew. New York: Da Capo, 1994. 
Translation of Les Films de ma vie (1975). 

. Letters of Frangois Truffaut. Edited by GiUes Jacob 

and Claude de Givray. Translated and edited by Gilbert 
Adair. Foreword by Jean-Luc Godard. Boston and 
London: Faber, 1989. 

Hilary Ann Radner 

By the end of the 1950s, French cinema had under- 
gone a major transformation from a free-market econ- 
omy to an economy largely submitted to state control. 

Stagnation had set in, provoking harsh criticism from a 
generation of film critics who had grown up with film as 
a major cultural force. The cine-clubs had developed a 





highly literate audience for film, sophisticated in their 
tastes, and informed about the historical issues governing 
the development of film. In the post-World War II 
years, debates about the status of film as art were reani- 
mated by a new generation of critics writing for journals, 
such as Cahiers du Cinema, and concerns about quality 
had become a paramount issue at the CNC. Polemical 
debates about the rigidity of the old guard created an 
environment receptive to a new kind of filmmaking, one 
that once again would define itself against Hollywood 
while looking to a number of Hollywood directors who 
had gained the status of auteur for inspiration. 

AFTERMATH: 1959 TO 1969 

The term "New Wave" (Nouvelle Vague) was coined by 
the journalist Frangoise Giroud in a series of articles 
published in L'Express during 1957, based on surveys 
conducted by the magazine. The term was taken up again 
by L'Express in 1959 to describe a new group of directors 
who showed films at the Cannes Film Festival that year. 
The epithet "New Wave" was exploited by Unifrance- 

film, an official arm of the CNC, to popularize and 
distinguish these new French directors abroad and even- 
tually became permanently associated with a group of 
young directors who emerged roughly at the end of the 
1950s through the beginning of the 1960s. Also known 
as la Bande des Cahiers, these filmmakers were loosely 
united around a number of critics turned directors, such 
as Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), who pub- 
lished in Cahiers du Cinema. 

Though a few directors associated with the French 
New Wave made films before 1959, such as Roger 
Leenhardt (1903-1985) and Melville, the first films of 
97 of the 192 new French filmmakers cited by Cahiers du 
Cinema in the New Wave special issue (1962) appeared 
between 1958 and 1962. Truffaut's Les Quatre cents coups 
{The 400 Blows, 1959), often considered the benchmark 
film of the New Wave, was in fact preceded by films such 
as Le Beau Serge {Handsome Serge, 1958) and Les Cousins 
{The Cousins, 1959) by Claude Chabrol (b. 1930). The 
years 1958 and 1959 saw the deaths of a series of great 
directors who had produced significant work during the 
previous two decades — Ophiils, Gremillon, and Becker, 




Jean-Pierre Leaud in Franqois Truffaut's landmark New 
Wave film, Les Quatre cents coup (The 400 Blows, 1959). 


leaving a number of studio-trained successors in the 
wings: Edouard Molinaro (b. 1928), Claude Sautet 
(1924-2000), and Michel DeviUe (b. 1931) had solid 
careers and often migrated to features destined for tele- 
vision in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, the hegem- 
ony of the old studio system was drawing to a close. 

Popular cinema, le cinema du sam'di soir (Saturday 
night movies), remained a significant box-office force, 
often in the form of star vehicles for actors such as 
Fernandel (1903-1971) and Gabin. The growing impact 
of television resulted in lower numbers of ticket sales, but 
cinema still overshadowed television as the single most 
popular form of mass entertainment. The big-budget 
Tradition of Quality films suffered the most, though 
the genre was kept alive through Italian co-productions 
and was revived as the heritage film in the 1980s. 

The productions, values, and techniques of the 
French cinema industry changed radically in the years that 
followed, opening up a new mode of production grounded 
in the small-budget film that made way for a new gener- 
ation of directors with a different artistic conception of 
film. New lightweight equipment and more sensitive film 
stock permitted young filmmakers who saw themselves as 

auteurs to begin making films. These new technologies 
freed filmmakers from the constraints of the large studio- 
based, heavily unionized film crews that were integral to 
the film style associated with the Tradition of Quality. 

The New Wave filmmakers might be said to share a 
certain sensibility — one that stood in stark contrast with 
the controlled mise-en-scene, trained performances, and 
studio lighting of the Tradition of Quality. By and large. 
New Wave directors favored improvisation and the use of 
available light, location shooting, direct sound, and ver- 
nacular language. Perhaps more importantly, this sensi- 
bility was associated with a mode of production, the 
small-budget film that gave the director complete artistic 
control, establishing him or her as the author or auteur of 
the work. The notion that the director functioned as the 
artistic creator of the film, with the film serving primarily 
as a vehicle for his or her vision, had a significant influ- 
ence not only on film production but also on the way in 
which films were evaluated — in particular, in the context 
of a developing academic discourse on film. 

New character types emerged with the New Wave, 
along with a more spontaneous acting style. Although the 
New Wave directors turned their backs on the established 
stars, the New Wave developed stars of its own, such as 
Jean-Paul Belmondo (b. 1933) and Jeanne Moreau 
(b. 1928), both of whom would go on to have international 
careers and have a significant impact on French cinema by 
sponsoring projects and taking a role in decisions about 
policy. Male stars such as Jean-Pierre Leaud (b. 1944) and 
Belmondo specialized in playing antiheroes, and together 
they formed the masculine face of the New Wave. Women 
stars such as Moreau, Bernadette Lafont (b. 1938), Anna 
Karina (b. 1940), and Brigitte Bardot (b. 1934) played 
either gamine embodiments of youthful sensuality, or dark, 
neurotic intellectuals. 

Strategies used by the French New Wave, such as 
direct sound and location shooting, were also part of the 
cinema verite movement that developed during the same 
period, associated with figures such as the anthropologist- 
filmmaker Jean Rouch (1917-2004). Again, the relatively 
low budgets associated with this genre of filmmaking 
made it attractive to intelleauals interested in interrogat- 
ing social norms and circulating anti-establishment 
political statements. Not since the early days of cinema 
had it been possible for so many people to make so many 
films. A new pattern was established: directors no longer 
necessarily spent years working in the industry and per- 
fecting their craft before embarking on a solo project. A 
director might make one or two more or less successful 
films before moving to some other activity. Though 
in fact New Wave directors worked with small, well- 
established crews maintained from one film to the next, 
they were the significant driving force behind the look, 
structure, and feel of the films. 




b. Jeanne Moreau, Paris, France, 23 January 1928 

As a star, a woman, and a national figure, Jeanne Moreau 
exemplifies the ideal of the French film actress in the post- 
New Wave era. Though overshadowed in the popular 
press by such stars as Brigitte Bardot and Catherine 
Deneuve, both of whom served as the model for 
Marianne, the official statue that represents France, 
Moreau, through her image as well as her position in the 
French film industry, embodied French femininity for a 
generation of film lovers. She personified the intelligent 
actress whose dark, mature, and potentially dangerous 
sensuality stood in stark contrast to the blonde sex kitten 
that dominated Hollywood screens. Moreau was 
considered un-photogenic, a jolie laide, whose 
personal magnetism and speaking voice overshadowed her 

Her early background in theater lent credibility to her 
career in cinema, which began in 1948 and which includes 
over one hundred films. Her roles in films associated with 
the New Wave, such as Ascenseur pour I'echafaud (Elevator to 
the Gallows, 1958) an&LesAmants {The Lovers, 1958), both 
directed by Louis Malle, gave her international prominence. 
Her portrayal of Catherine in Jules et Jim {Jules and Jim, 
1962), directed by Franfois Trufifaut, New Wave director 
par excellence, solidified her star image. International films, 
including Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte { The Night, 
1961), Orson Welles's Une Histoire immortelle {The 
Lmmortal Story, 1968), Anthony Asquith's The Yellow 
Rolls-Royce (1964), and Carlo Diegues's Joanna Francesa 
(1973), also have featured prominently in her career. 

Moreau took a substantial risk in choosing to work 
with young, relatively unknown directors in the late 1950s 
and the 1960s. Throughout her career, she made choices 
that reflected her sense of cinema as an art and, as a result, 

she is universally respected for her professionalism and 
commitment. In addition to awards for specific roles 
(Cannes, 1960; Academic du cinema, 1962; Celsar, 1990), 
she has received lifetime tributes from the Cannes Film 
Festival (1992), the Venice Film Festival (Golden Lion, 
1992), and the American Academy of Motion Pictures 
Arts and Sciences (1998). 

Moreau has been involved in all aspects of French 
cinema. She was twice Presidente of the Jury at the Cannes 
Festival, and in 1993, she was appointed Presidente of the 
Commission d'Avances sur Recettes, a body of experts that 
advises the Centre National de la Cinematographic. She 
has also supported Equinox, an organization she created in 
1993 that holds annual workshops for new scriptwriters. 
Moreau has directed two films herself, Lumiere (1976), a 
portrait of four film actresses, and L'Adolescente {The 
Adolescent, 1979), the evocation of a visit by a girl to her 
grandparents in Avignon on the eve of World War II. 
Moreau was elected a member of the Academy of Beaux 
Arts in 2001. 


Ascenseur pour I'echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows, 1958), 
Les Amants (The Lovers, 1958), Les Liaisons dangereuses 
{Dangerous Liaisons, 1959), La Notte (The Night, 1961), 
Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962), Le Journal d'une femme 
de chamhre {Diary of a Chambermaid, 1964), La Mariee 
etait en noir {The Bride Wore Black, 1968), Querelle 
(1982), La Femme Nikita {Nikita, 1990), LAbsence 
{The Absence, 1993) 


Vincendeau, Ginette. Stars and Stardom in French Cinema. 
London: Continuum, 2000. 

Hilary Ann Radner 

The New Wave philosophy did not mean that big- 
budget filmmaking was over in France or elsewhere, but it 
did introduce a parallel tradition that would make film- 
making more accessible to a wide range of individuals who 
declined to see cinema as mass entertainment, preferring to 
use film primarily as a form of personal or aesthetic 
expression. Within the New Wave, two equally important 
groups contributed to the rise of this new style in filmmak- 
ing: the very vocal group emerging out of C